First published in Brave Boy World: A Transman Anthology, Pink Narcissus Press, 2017.
I made a mistake coming here, Simon thought as he tightly clutched at the pack that contained all his earthly belongings, and pushed through the jitney cabbies that crowded the port exit. Or rather—he amended to himself—there was nothing earthly about his belongings anymore. He’d left the Earth behind to come to Quadrant 46 for nothing more than a promise.
A promise that he’d finally have a place where he could belong.
First, though, like all travelers to the Moon, Simon had the misfortune of passing through the satellite’s only space port, a horrible place called The Hub.
From above, The Hub was deceptively inviting: sleek and modern as a mechanical otter. The windows of its tall buildings shimmered like silver sheets of clean water at the sun’s zenith, transforming into a warm honey glow as the sun slipped beneath the horizon.
Up close, The Hub displayed a different face. The streets were filmed with the ubiquitous moon dust that swept in from the western crater, and the gutters were heavily littered. Crime was rampant; the port’s knife-narrow alleys housed hordes of delinquents ready to prey on unsuspecting travelers. Lower-level business owners daily mumbled quiet curses as they scrubbed the blood stains from their stoops.
Even once he was somehow ensconced in the relative safety of the bullet train, the view through the dusty windows did nothing to change his initial impression. Beyond the sharply delineated boundaries of The Hub, the landscape unfurled in never-ending shades of gray. Gray sand, gray rock, without a scrap of the greenery he’d become so accustomed to while living in rural Carolina. Barren, alien, and cold.
Silently, Simon fretted over his decision. At least until the announcement, in muted robotic tones, of their imminent arrival at Quadrant 46. The edge of the colony at the far side of the Mare Cognitum gradually appeared in view. Surging up from the basalt, the settlement was a riot of colors so vibrant that, after so many hours of washed-out dimness, it almost hurt to look at it.
Wide-eyed, Simon gazed in child-like wonder at his new home, marveling at how his future kin had made something of such exquisite beauty in such an ugly place. In fact, Simon was certain that he’d never laid eyes on anything so beautiful that it had literally taken his breath away.
At least until he met an infamous man once known as Mama Hydro.
At the train station, Simon was greeted by a smiling couple, neither much older than his own child, the one he had left behind. They stowed his meager belongings in the trunk of one of the Community’s few electric vehicles, all the while filling the silence with cheerful chatter about life in the colony. He knew they meant well, but their enthusiasm made him feel tired and far older than his forty-five years. Seated in the tiny passenger seat, he smiled and nodded as the driver, a tall, angular woman, continued to talk about what he could expect during his transition—here, both his greeters smiled—to moon life.
This was merely a formality. Simon was old enough, unlike his welcome committee, to have seen the original footage of the first attempts of the Phase Project. He remembered the drama of the solar mirrors in the Shackleton Crater that began the process of melting the lunar ice, and then the worldwide celebration when advances in the newly-emergent field of hydropunctalation created the lunar atmosphere far sooner than its initial prediction. What should have taken five generations was complete in a decade.
Once the moon was habitable, the Earth governments had selected the prime locations for their own purposes—nefarious, profitable, or both. Then the private citizens of the overpopulated planet had been given the opportunity to group together to form their own settlements based on commonalities.
The commonality of the inhabitants of Quadrant 46 was that they were all transgender.
After a short ride to a suburb called Leisure World, Simon was given the keys to his living quarters, directions to the clinic where he would meet with Doctor Euclid in the morning for a physical exam, and an explanation of his new job. The clinic appointment was also a formality, as Simon had already supplied results the requisite documentation that proved that his brain, if not his biological sex, was male.
As for the new job, every adult resident was assigned a task that benefited the Community in some way in return for food, lodging, and a small stipend. As there wasn’t much need for an ex-museum conservator in the colony, Simon’s task would be to assist the doctor at his clinic.
It turned out that life in Leisure World wasn’t perfect. Simon missed his collection of art objects, his books, his friends, and, most of all, his child. But he was grateful to have food and shelter, work that was meaningful, and the opportunity to live freely as himself, without fear of ridicule or violence.
It was enough.
They were safe.
Or so he thought.
The day after Simon arrived, a young man mysteriously and quietly disappeared.
Simon had been in Quadrant 46 for three weeks before he saw a child.
The day was bright with thin wisps of clouds drifting overhead in the man-made atmosphere. Restless within the tiny confines of the housing unit he’d been given, he’d decided to stroll through the park. Though far from his neighborhood, the park was one of his favorite places in the city, and featured a splendid variety of perennials around a clever fountain that played music. It was in this fountain he saw the child—about eight years old, thin and brown as a stick, dark hair slicked wetly to his oblong head—laughing as he dashed among the pulsating jets of water that spewed from the pursed lips of metallic fish.
Children were rare in the Community. At the unexpected sight of the innocent and joyous exuberance, Simon felt a pang deep inside him, in his ghost womb. Lingering, he sank down upon the nearest bench, so caught up in the feeling that he was scarcely aware of the man seated at the other edge. At least until the boy ran up to them, slapping wet hands down on the other man’s knees.
“Mom! You promised we’d go out for ice cream! Can we go now?”
The man made a small huff of exasperation, his voice low. “Hem,” he muttered. “What have I told you about calling me that in public?”
The boy blinked. His expression turned sheepish, voice small. “Sorry. Dad.”
How familiar that was. Simon chortled softly. As the man’s eyes snapped to him, the laughter died along with the catch of breath in Simon’s throat.
Eyes dark as teak, glinting like a dragonfly’s wing, and warm as sun-soaked amber. When the man looked at him, Simon felt a strange familiarity, as though they were connected by an invisible thread—one that had been drawing him here all his life, to this moment, to this man.
Drawing him home.
Alek Kurtz was one of the hydropunctalators of the original Phase Project that terraformed the lunar landscape. Although much of his work had been performed in a government laboratory of Earth, he held the distinction of being one of the first non-astronauts to set foot on the moon.
The first thing he’d done, he’d told Simon during one of their early dates, was to crouch down in the settling cloud of moon dust, and filter the soil through his fingers. To commune with the tierra.
Having seen Alek perform this particular gesture while working in the Greenhouse, Simon could picture Alek as a young man sifting the dust in his still-pristine spacesuit. Even though Alek hadn’t transitioned back then, Simon couldn’t picture him as anything other than male.
Alek’s role in the Phase Project had not only guaranteed him a one-line mention in the history books, but had made him into a sort of folk hero among the Moonlanders. There was even an infamous gang that circulated through The Hub, tagging corporate walls with obscenities, tossing bricks through windows, and hijacking water from the trucks transporting the precious liquid from the Points. They called themselves the Hydropunks.
Alek also shared details of the long journey that had brought him back to the moon, this time with his children, in search of a quieter life as his authentic self.
Soon there would be little that Simon did not know about his beloved. He would learn about Alek’s love of nature, his deep-seated need for solitude, the fierce, protective love he bore for his offspring, the sounds he made when he came, and his not-so-secret weakness for milkshakes.
On their very first date, they’d gone to Tea Time, the Community’s only tea shop. As Simon listened to him talking about how water is life from across the mismatched, floral-patterned crockery, it was already too late. He was already in love. Madly and inexplicably.
Two days after their first date, another young man vanished without a trace.
The first time Alek paid Simon a visit, he circled Simon’s home like a cagey panther, scrutinizing all of Simon’s possessions with the purposeful intensity of an archaeologist at a dig.
Because he was single, Simon had been given a unit with only three rooms: a kitchen and living room area on the ground floor, with a bedroom upstairs. Alek was acutely aware that Simon was watching him as he studied the framed photographs on the walls of the living room. Each one, Simon had told him, was an object he and his team of conservators had restored during his work at the museum.
Alek was surprised to recognize the image in the first photograph. His right eyebrow twitched as he flashed a curious glance at his host. “This is a Monet.”
“You worked on this painting,” Alek said, tone somewhat dubious.
A hint of a smile played on Simon’s lips. “My specialty was restoring paintings. Yes.” Stroking the dark blond hairs on his chin, he added, “It had been left in storage for a long time. No one knew about the leak in the museum’s storeroom. So every time it rained... well, there was some extensive water damage to a number of the canvases. Including this one.”
“I see,” Alek said. He then let his gaze roam over the other photographs in the room. Other than the framed pictures, Simon had not personalized his quarters. Everything was minimalist—so clean and tidy that Alek suspected some hardcore OCD. “Well. I guess you could say Monet left quite an impression.”
Chuckling to himself, Alek moved onto the next photograph. “Tell me about this one.”
“A bowl with chrysanthemum blossoms. Japanese, early eighteenth century.”
Alek continued around the room, listening as Simon described each object, spinning silky-webbed tales artfully, almost magically, out of thin air. He noted how the quiet man’s blue eyes would light up as he described each precious object that he and his team had once repaired. Alek found that endearing.
This man... he’s unlike any man I’ve ever met. Do I dare disturb the universe?
At the end of the tour, decision made, Alek climbed the stairs. He didn’t glance behind him to see if Simon would follow.
The bedroom contained a bed and a dresser. Upon the dresser a few articles for grooming sat, neatly arranged.
Definitely OCD... but absolutely amazing.
Simon, leaning in the doorway, coughed awkwardly into his fist as Alek turned to him. “As you can see... there isn’t much of interest up here.”
A playful smile curled up into Alek’s dark mustache. “On the contrary, there is one thing in this room that interests me a lot,” he said. Stepping forward, he slid his hands up over Simon’s shoulders, his eyes glinting with open hunger. “You.”
On the day they’d met in the park, they’d struck up a tentative friendship. But Alek had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in anything more. A series of bad relationships had left him sour. He had his children, and his work in the Greenhouse, and that was enough for him now. He wasn’t interested in romance. It had been a long time since Alek had let anyone see all his scars.
Tenderly, Simon kissed all of them. Every single one.
In that moment, it was too late for Alek. He was already in love. Madly and inexplicably.
What love felt like:
It felt too good to be real. Fragile and as easily crushed as the membrane of an eggshell formed in a low-oxygen climate.
It felt like a blessing from all the gods that mankind ever dreamed of, a reward for all his suffering and pain.
It felt like the most wonderful and beautiful gift, wrapped in a smile starlight-bright, and warm arms to hold him, and the promise of never having to be alone again for the rest of his life, and knowing deep down in his heart that he’d found the one thing he’d never had, but had secretly longed for always.
Three days after Alek spent the first night with Simon, another transman mysteriously disappeared.
“They don’t even realize how lucky they are. How easy it is now. They have no idea what people like us had to go through.”
It was an unusually warm day for winter, all bright sun and cloud-wisp sky. Alek and Simon weren’t the only ones who had decided to take advantage of the weather. Sitting on the bench with two steaming synth coffees, they were half-observing as Rue, Alek’s seventeen year old, played touch football with a group of young guys on the grassy knoll of the park, while his youngest, Hemlock, cheered from the sidelines, and Basil, the middle child, sat with his nose buried in a book.
To the others in the Community, Alek’s being with Simon seemed fitting somehow. Although there were many women their age and older, most of the guys were in their early twenties. That there were two single, middle-aged men who also happened to be gay... well, match made in heaven.
“If by ‘people like us,’ you mean smart, funny and wickedly handsome, then you could be right, mi amor,” Alek said, then laughed.
Simon chuckled in appreciation. “You know what I meant, sunshine.”
Alek did know. Like Simon, he had decided to transition many years ago back on Earth, before advances in gene therapy had made changing one’s biological sex much safer and easier. Nowadays, painful weekly injections of testosterone were a thing of the past, and surgeries were practically perfected.
“What I don’t get,” Simon continued, indicating some of the shirtless players, “is why some of those guys actually ask for scars. And wear them proudly, like some badge of honor.”
“Maybe they just want to honor our trans history,” Alek suggested.
“They could honor our history by waving a flag, and go with a nice, smooth, manly chest.”
“I’m not ashamed of my scars,” Alek said quietly, after a moment. “They’re part of me. Of the shit I went through. The shit that made me strong.”
Pensive, Simon ran a finger along the cold metal edge of the bench. In response, he merely grunted.
Alek glanced at the field. Once he ascertained that his children were still alive and not bleeding, he shifted, leaning forward to peer into his beloved’s face. “Simon. Is something wrong?”
Simon turned the coffee cup in his hands. Drew a breath. “You haven’t heard, then.”
“Heard? Heard what?”
“You know Jenna? Who works at the bakery?” When Alek nodded, Simon said, “She’s gone missing.”
“Oh,” Alek said, as he felt his heart sink. Of course he knew Jenna. He and Hemlock had loved to watch her work, nimble hands piping icing onto cakes, or twisting bread dough into knots. “Fuck. And nobody knows what happened?”
Simon shook his head. “Doctor Euclid said they’re going to discuss it at the next meeting. He told me that the disappearances started a few months before I got here. But they don’t know anything. No witnesses.”
Mouth grim, Alek’s gaze snapped instinctively towards his boys to reassure himself that they were safe. He didn’t want to consider what horrible things might have happened to his friends. He’d seen enough of that on Earth. Enough of that had happened to him. Mind spinning with ugly memories, he felt his heart lurching dangerously in his chest. Air suddenly refused to inflate his lungs. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t--
Simon’s voice echoed in his ear. He felt Simon’s hands on his shoulder. Simon’s blue eyes--kind, patient, loving--were fixated on him. Drawing him back.
Before Alek could speak, a voice boomed across the distance. “Lisa!”
He’d been a girl once. An innocent little girl with blood on her dress.
Simon’s pale face filled the screen as he leaned closer. Still, Alek caught the movement as Simon’s hand traced along the edges of his tiny and naturally uncluttered desk. “Alek? Who was that man in the park?”
Ripple of pulse. There were certain things he hadn’t told Simon yet—not because he would ever dream of hiding things from the man he loved, but because some things were difficult to dredge up from the past, and present them, still writhing and gasping like a cuttlefish, at another person’s feet.
Whenever he had to confront that past, Alek would recite TS Eliot under his breath, like a magical chant.
Let me be no nearer in death’s dream kingdom...
Simon’s eyes. Blue as Aegean sea water. Patient. Kind. All he had ever wanted. He drew in a breath. “My ex,” he said softly. Then, to clarify, “Ex-husband.”
“You never told me you were married.”
For a second, Alek bristled. Then he realized that it was no judgment, merely a statement of fact. He responded lightly, with a hint of sass. “Did you think I made all those children by myself?”
Simon smiled. “Well, no, but... not all babes are born in wedlock,” he said teasingly. Then his smile vanished. “He’s the reason you left Earth, isn’t he?”
Let me also wear such deliberate disguises...
“Yeah,” Alek admitted. “And he wasn’t too happy about that.”
Simon’s expression became grim. Alek could almost sense his mind working, even through the screen, as though no distance could sever the mystical connection between them. An invisible braid of love, respect, and trust.
“Given what he said...” Simon paused, his frown incising deeper lines around his mouth. “He doesn’t seem too happy about you being a man, either.”
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves...
“He wasn’t,” Alek said. “But that was my choice. He didn’t accept it. He didn’t accept me for who I really am. He didn’t want me to transition. He wanted me to stay a woman.”
Simon hummed thoughtfully. “But you never really were a woman,” Simon pointed out. “Not really.”
“I didn’t know what I was,” Alek said. “I only knew that I was unhappy. But now...”
At the hour when we are trembling with tenderness...
Alek paused to consider. But, really, there was nothing to consider. It was cold truth, the kind one felt way down deep in one’s soul, hard and brittle as ancient bones. And truth, however harsh, always demanded to be heard.
“Now, for the first time in my life, I’m comfortable in my skin,” he said, voice thrumming with the steel buzz of conviction, like a premonition. “I’m finally who I was meant to be. And I would rather kill myself than ever go back to living as a woman.”
Brushing the dirt from his hands, Alek thought for a moment before composing the following message:
When I see you, when I think of you, when I smell you, when I feel you, when I make love to you, everything about you to me is masculine. I hope you know that. Men have always been my weakness, and you bring me to my knees. I love you, mi amor.
Kicking at the lava rocks he’d unearthed, he chewed on his lip as he stared at the screen, waiting for Simon’s response. When his handheld’s screen lit up, he nearly squealed.
It couldn’t have been predicted. The last time Alek had seen Simon, there had been no signs that it would be the last.
Simon had been grousing again—almost compulsively, one of his hobbies—about the younger generation of transmen in the community, and how they took all the modern technology for granted.
Lying side by side in Simon’s bed, curled up slippery and soft like snails, Alek was watching as Simon thumbed over the screen of his handheld, flicking though photos of results of the newest surgical techniques.
“These young guys,” Simon mused as his finger hovered over one revealing image. “They have it so easy. You remember what a phallo used to look like? Like a Frankencock. Jesus. Nowadays you can’t even tell the difference.”
Alek sat up, brushing back a dark lock of his untamable hair. “Your anatomy isn’t what defines you as a man,” he said. Then, as an afterthought, “Simon. I thought you didn’t want bottom surgery.”
“I don’t.” An automatic response.
Alek hummed. “I’d do it. If I had the money.” Saucy, he grinned down at his beloved. “It would be worth it just to be inside you.”
Attention caught, Simon let the device slip from his hand, rolling over to give Alek a look, one eyebrow cocked. “And what makes you think I’d like that?”
Alek blinked. Then smiled as he noticed the curve of Simon’s teasing grin, the nerves of his skin igniting as Simon’s light fingers sketched a poem down the hard, hairy length of his thigh. It was like that with Simon—just the touch of his hand and Alek was ready to go again.
Testosterone really is magical.
With a growl, Alek launched himself, pinning the blond below, and they rumpled the sheets until the small hours of the night.
In the ordeal that followed his kidnapping, Alek remembered that night with frequency. The memory kept him sane.
Until it didn’t.
From the muffled sounds that seeped in, Alek recognized that he was in the Hub. The sounds of the Hub tasted like the copper of blood, burning metal, and acetylene.
They’d locked him in a dank and suffocating room, no larger than a prison cell. Which is what it was. He spent his time in captivity pacing the walls and plotting his escape. When the door finally opened, he lashed out like a rabid ape, all fists and fury.
Alek wasn’t a large man. But what he lacked in size, he made up for with ferocity. He managed to draw blood and crush nasal bones before he found himself pinned face-down against the vaguely moldy carpet. It had taken four men to take him down.
Lisa. Don’t fight it. We’re just trying to help you.
Alek gritted his teeth. He wouldn’t be afraid of that bastard anymore. He wouldn’t shed another tear. He wouldn’t beg. The scratchy carpet dug into his jaw as he hissed into it. My name is Alek.
There was a lengthy pause in which he only heard the soft rub of denim as his ex shifted, barely audible over the surge of blood in his own ears. You’re sick, Lisa, the bastard finally said. We’re going to fix you.
He didn’t know what that meant. There was no time for fear. Mind consumed by rage, Alek cursed as they dragged him away.
There was the needle’s prick, and the sweet, sickly scent of ether thick in his nostrils that stole away his thoughts. Then darkness, cold and deep, creeping over him like a shroud of mist.
Later, there was pain, diluted by the heavy haze of sedatives.
Without Alek, joy vanished from Simon’s life. As if the very sun had been stolen from Simon’s sky.
At first, he felt numb. Euclid diagnosed it as denial. Gradually, it began to feel as though his thoughts were wrapped in a heavy, wet wool blanket, his senses deadened. As if all color had been leeched out of his eyes. Ordinary sounds were now strident and shrill. And the very air tasted constantly of moon dust and despair.
When the realization struck, it was if a hole where Alek used to be was ripped into Simon’s soul, and the universe poured in all of its pain and suffering.
Jesus fucking Christ, it hurt.
Simon tried to put on a brave face for Alek’s children. Someone had to look after them, and Simon had not hesitated to assume responsibility. But living in Alek’s quarters meant that he was confronted by Alek’s absence at every turn. Curled up in the familiar bed, he breathed in the ghost scent of his beloved.
He was wallowing in this sorry state when the children knocked on the bedroom door, their expressions set as if in stone, a series of antique Roman busts all in a row.
It was Basil who spoke.
“We need Dad,” he said. “What are you going to do about it?”
The darkest, most unsavory section of the Hub was unaffectionately referred to by the locals as “the Rat Hole.”
They should have called it the “Spider’s Web,” Simon thought as he hastened along the narrow, interconnected walkways towards his destination: the Hydropunks’ hideout in the center of the Hole.
He’d paid dearly for this information. His slim savings account drained, he’d sold his only possessions of value: the collection of museum photographs of the precious objects he’d restored. So much time had passed since Alek’s disappearance. But the den of thieves was his only hope.
The greeting he received was only slightly warmer than he’d expected.
“You! What the fuck you want, asshole?”
This from a kid—no, barely a kid, practically a baby in Simon’s eyes—in a patched-up flak jacket, combat boots, tattooed skull, who was perched up in the scaffolding that served as the look-out.
Simon wasn’t particularly courageous, but he’d spent years carefully studying men’s posturing. Shoulders back, chest out, he jerked out his chin. “Word on the street is that you know everything that goes on in the Hub. I need information. And I’m willing to pay for it.”
Simon’s words had their intended effect. Suddenly he was the the center of attention, surrounded by a half-dozen or so young men and women, dressed in a similar manner as the young look-out. A tall, beefy male that Simon assumed was the leader warily eyed him. The cambot set into the man’s left socket click-whirred as it briefly flashed red. “What kind of info, mate?”
Simon told them about the disappearances from the community. About Alek. About Alek’s ex, who Simon believed may have been involved because--
Bot-eye lunged. Suddenly a large hand choked off the words from Simon’s throat. Angry spittle spattered across Simon’s face. “What makes you think we give a fuck about a tranny faggot?”
There was once a time, when he was a younger man, that such words would have filled Simon with rage. Currently, the lack of oxygen was a more pressing dilemma. Clawing at the hand, Simon managed to suck in enough air to hiss out, “’Cause he used to be Lisa Kurtz.”
The grip loosened. Red flash of mechanical pupil. Then a sneer. “Bullshit.”
A soft voice. Commanding. “Back off, Bruiser.”
Simon rubbed at his neck as his attacker and the others slunk away, some regarding him curiously over their shoulders. Ignoring them, he focused on the woman in front of him. With a fire-engine-red fauxhawk, ears modded into elfin points, and lips tattooed in candy-cane stripes, she was about thirty.
And—Simon realized—the actual leader of the Hydropunks.
She regarded him curiously for a moment with cat-like green eyes. “Your boyfriend—he’s really Mama Hydro?”
It felt wrong to agree to that, but Simon nodded.
He could almost hear the calculations abacus-clacking in her head. “We’ll get the info you need. Come back in one week. But it will cost you. Twenty liters of water. We have a deal?”
Twenty liters of water. A princely sum. The community had promised to help Simon but, even so, he wasn’t sure he could manage to pay this price.
For you, Alek... anything.
There was no other choice.
He put out his hand. “Deal.”
They kept him sedated. His head a jumble of cotton weeds as time trickled away, his new body healing into its deformed shape. When he tore out the tubing in a fit of rebellion, they strapped his limbs to the bed, fluids drip-drip-dripping from the IV, adhering him to life.
He knew little about the radical zealots who had kidnapped him. He only knew that he wasn’t their first victim, and that somehow the bastard had found them. Shackled, there was no escape. He was prisoner here, and prisoner to the pain. Something had gone awry with the surgery—the hack of a doctor had removed some of his axillary lymph nodes, causing his right arm to swell with life-threatening infection. Lost in fever dreams, he called out for his children. For Simon.
Veiled like nuns, the women eventually came. Supported his shaking legs. He refused to look as they peeled back the surgical tape and unwound the blood- stained bandages, revealing the shadows of sutures dissolving into his newly-softened flesh. With fingers like iron, they gripped him by the hair and forced him to regard their handiwork in the mirror.
A strange, but familiar woman stared back at him.
For a long time, he didn’t even realize that the high-pitched keening was the desperate sounds torn from his own throat.
Broken and in his weakened state, he was taken by the bastard and the sisters to an unfamiliar place.
They called it home.
Time passed. The sisters dragged Alek through the days until it became routine before they quietly withdrew. He let his body move. He nodded at dinner when the bastard spoke of bringing the boys with them back to Earth, to start again. Man and wife. Happy family. The way it always should have been.
“Lisa? Where are you going?”
Alek realized that he had stood up from the table. Staring down at the grease-streaked plate in his hand, he forced himself to speak. “I’m going to take a bath.”
With a dismissive wave, the bastard turned back to his handheld.
Alek left the dish in the sink, took an object silently from the drawer, then headed up the stairs. Everything in the apartment was white—a transitory space, lacking the warmth of a real home. He missed the vibrant hues of the fruits and flowers of the Greenhouse. He even missed the gray sands outside the colony—if one looked closely, they could see in the grains a glorious spectrum of colors, from rose quartz to obsidian and all shades in-between. As he climbed the stairs towards the bathroom, he trailed his fingers along the wall, picturing Simon’s photographs of all the precious, broken things that he had restored.
Toothbrush dish. A Delacroix. Bowls with chrysanthemum blossoms. Monet water lilies. 120 sapphires in filaments of gold.
Once in the bathroom, he shut the door. Tapping the faucet, he let the water pour out, until the tub was filled, and the mirrors filmed with steam.
In his more pessimistic moments, Alek had wondered if Simon had viewed him as just another beautiful, broken thing he could fix. Now that Alek was broken, his beloved wasn’t here to fix him. And Alek could not, would not exist solely as someone’s broken doll.
Lalique orchid comb. Japanese iron crabs. Silver bound books. Syrian rings of electrum. A pocketwatch in the shape of a skull.
Still dressed, Alek stepped into the tub. The water was hot, but not unbearably so. He let himself sink down until he was mostly submerged in the water. He ignored the prickling at the corners of his eyes, reaching to dig out the object he had taken from the kitchen drawer before coming upstairs from a pocket in his pants.
In the filmy light, the thin blade glimmered like a promise of relief.
Against the flickering pulse of his radial, he poised the point of the knife, then pressed deep once, twice.
Porcelain inkstands. Ivory skeleton with pearls for eyes. Urn clock.
Into the water, the hydropunctalator’s blood began to jet, billowing out from his wrists like scarlet ribbons unfurling in a lunar wind.
A strange thing happened as Alek lay bleeding out in a bathtub in the Hub.
There was a ruckus. Incomprehensible shouting. The sounds of smashing doors and shattered glass. The thunder of footsteps hammered like a heartbeat up the stairs.
The door crashed open.
Crimson butterfly wing. Illuminated manuscripts in scarlet ink. Ruby-encrusted crown fit for a king.
And in the very moment he was ready to let go, he was saved.