The Saturday Night Special lives. It's 90s flashback time.
Also: this deals with transgender themes, so "slash" isn't very apt.


I.

April was born in the month of May.

She had slim hips, green eyes, blonde hair that hung around her waist in loose waves the color of a burning sun. She was studying botany and spent a lot of time her garden, tending to tomatoes with names like "Yellow Jamaica Blitz." When she was outside, she wore a lilac bandanna and tied her shirt half-way up her belly. Her Retro Red lipstick never smeared.

By many accounts, the quintessential woman.

However, despite her shapely legs and perfectly-formed Cupid's bow mouth, April had no precious flower. No vertical smile, no second mouth, no jaguar in her skirt— no lady bits whatsoever. Instead, in the cruelest sort of irony, she had eight inches of glistening cock between her slender legs, cradled her in her neon-green underwear, hidden from view inside jeans that loosened in all the right places.

Still, by many accounts (although fewer), an (although less) attractive mate.

It was a Thursday afternoon. April curled a strand of hair around her finger, studying the concrete in front of her. It was hot, and waves of heat rose from the asphalt. Sweat-sticky toes squeaked on the rubber of her orange flip-flops. They matched neither her blue jeans nor her tight orchid tee-shirt.

In theory, nothing about seeing her sitting there on the side of the road, sipping Arizona iced tea, should have made April attractive. The persistent dust made her complexion look industrial-grade. Her hair had been bleached by the sun in the most awkward of ways. The straw hat obscured her eyes and made her face look too broad.

She held out her thumb.

In an act of fate, a skinny boy with a grown-out buzz-cut slowed his Pontiac Sunbird to a crawl and pulled up in front of her.

"Do you need a ride somewhere?"

April looked up at him, adjusting her hat to shield her face. "Depends on where you're going," she said. "Where are you going?"

He smiled at her in a way he must have thought quite impressive. No one with a spearmint air freshener in their car was to be taken seriously. "Out west somewhere," he said. He waved his hand in the general direction of the sun. It was three in the afternoon. "What about yourself?"

For a moment, April considered lying. It would be easy: she had grown accustomed to the feeling of breathing a lie, become adept at telling people what they wanted to hear, never had qualms about a few untruths to keep herself out of trouble. For a moment, April considered letting this rail-thin stranger pass her by. She entertained the thought of saying she was fine where she was. That she wanted to go east towards the rising sun and the Mississippi river. It was the last quarter of the twentieth century, and society appeared to be crumbling in all the wrong places. Safety in numbers, although that would hardly protect a zebra from a bulldozer or a viper from itself.

She answered, "Out west somewhere," and climbed into the red four-door.

--

The motel room outside of Tulsa smelled like wine and cigarettes and call-girl perfume. Despite having checked under the bed for dead bodies, April still opted for the pinstripe couch. She dangled her legs over the edge of it and spun the lampshade with her feet.

"Why are you going to Los Angeles?" she asked, focusing her attention on her painted toe-nails. The lights were off and she was hot, but she kept the blanket firmly over her body. "Didn't you used to be in the military?"

"How'd you guess?"

"I looked through your stuff."

"Don't do that."

She drew her foot back under the blanket, not because it was cold but because it made her uncomfortable to be exposed. Without the careful planning of slenderizing outfits and smears of makeup on her face, she doesn't look like herself. She inhabits someone else's reflection.

"I don't need to. How come you're not in the military any more?"

"I'm not much for rules. I was speeding the entire time, you just never noticed."

Despite herself, April laughed into the couch cushion. It tasted like wine and cigarettes and call-girl perfume, all of which taste disgusting in general but especially together, served on a leafy bed of someone-elses's-ass. April coughed quietly into her arm and nestled into the blankets in the hopes that they would swallow her whole. She imagined them as a cocoon. When she emerged, she would be beautiful.

Actually, she thought about eating a cheeseburger.

Her stomach rumbled unpleasantly.

"Are you hungry?" Ehren's voice came through the dark.

"Yes."

She heard him kick off the sheets. "Good!"

And let there be light.

She blinked in confusion. "All right. Are we going to get food then?" Still clutching the blanket around her lithe body, April shuffled meaningfully towards the still-bright bathroom.

"I saw a QuikTrip down the street."

April repaired her appearance as quickly as she could. Her routine was part of an Odyssey to which she was still unfamiliar. The blanket slipped from her bruised shoulders when she shuffled her hair into a ponytail. It wasn't perfect —the fluorescent lighting made no attempt to hide her many flaws— but it was passable. She was passable. Playing herself in the stage production of her life.

She had dreamed of becoming a poet, once, not an actress, but this was fair substitute as long as it was in her head.

Folding the blanket and setting it on the couch, April leaned against the stucco wall. Beyond the window, neon lights proclaimed that it was time for XXX films and spare ribs. Too warm for jackets, they padded out of the motel and across the street to the rib restaurant.

"Ribs are the food of vagabonds," said Ehren. "And spaghetti is the food for the quietly content proletariat."

They waited in line behind a woman in pink sweatpants. The walls were lined with license plates from all 50 states. The window marked ORDER HERE was circled with partially burnt-out Christmas lights. The woman behind the counter fixed April with a strange look and April just scowled back until the woman looked away, swearing under her breath.

Having purchased their food, April and Ehren went to sit on a booth in the corner to wait impatiently.

April drew designs in the salt spilled on the table and toyed with the laminated card with the number 56 printed on one side. She kept her head down, loose strands of hair hanging into her face. She squirmed uncomfortably, listening to the sounds of other people eating. Her cheeks were growing warmer, her heartbeat accelerating in the first beginnings of panic.

"Clocks make no sense."

She exhaled in surprise. "What?"

Ehren shrugged. "Instead of AM and PM starting at one and going until twelve, they start at twelve and then go 1, 2, 3, up through 11. Then they start again." He pointed at the clock behind her head, and she turned around to look at it. "It should be almost 12 pm, not 12 am."

April turned around to face him. "But that's just how it has to be," she said. She twirled her hair until her hair got dizzy and lay limp from her scalp. She didn't feel so dreadfully tense any more, so frantic and unhappy. Even if the entire situation made her a little nervous, she didn't let herself think about all the things that could go wrong. "Your way makes more sense."

He smiled at her.

The gray-haired woman called order number 56.

For a while, the two of them sat tucked in one corner of the all-nite rib place. Outside the glass window to her left, April could see a mattress factory lying deserted and still in the nighttime. She shivered and shifted, uncomfortable all over again. The barbed wire over the chain-link fence made her slouch down in the wooden booth.

"Are you all right?"

April shook her head.

"I've never run away from home before."

"You get used to it."

They sat quietly, eating ribs as quietly as one can eat ribs in Oklahoma, and eventually they crossed the street to the motel. They stepped through the white wooden door, into the room the color of baby ears and seashells. They took off their shoes and didn't bother to turn on the light.

April stumbled to the couch and collapsed into it, disappearing into the cushions; Ehren lay on his back, staring sleeplessly into the stucco ceiling.

They remained there.

--

April was an arsonist.

She had been 12. Holding onto her sister Abbie's hand, she peered at the decrepit trailer belonging to a Doris Jackson, and in that moment she became an arsonist. Months before she so much as lit a match, she had become the destroyer of shattered worlds, unafraid of god or man.

Back then, her name had been Hank.

Hank.

Who the fuck names their kid Hank?

As it turns out, April's mother.

She learned to smoke throaty cigarettes and down spicy liquor that made her eyes sting. She knew only a few things about the world: that tornadoes come quickly, that her mother's name had been April, and that she was not particularly domestic.

Nevertheless female. When she wrapped herself in glittery clothes and layers of delicious makeup, people sometimes told her she looked like Anna Nicole Smith, Christina Applegate, Britney Spears— the 1990s crammed into a little plastic box to distract the populace from the nightmares of the real world. Like Bosnia.

April had always preferred Greta Garbo, Bridgette Bardot, Veronica Lake. She told herself they were timeless. She used to have photographs of beautiful women cut out and shoved into her pillow. If she fell asleep with their faces hidden so close to her body, she told herself, she would one day wake up as beautiful as them.

She had, one day, part of the way (but really most of the way). It had been punctuated by many, many days of waking up graceless, wearing a name like Hank. She had inched closer, closer to the perfection of curve and face, and she was almost there.

It never would have happened, had she not been an arsonist at the tender age of 12.

Standing in the living room, in front of the mirror, April stared back at a reflection that belonged to a girl named April. She smoothed out the calico skirt she had borrowed from Abbie, straightened the ponytail pinned back with stolen bobby pins. Her face was her face. Her skin was her skin.

She had stared down at the matchbox in her hands and struck one of the red and white Diamond matchsticks against the rough, red strike strip. She stared at the glowing yellow light and pressed the flower of fire gently against the white, lacy drapes. She stepped back, eyes wide in fascination as the flames consumed the fabric.

Eyes wild, she had struck more matches, tossed them onto the rug. She had picked up the orange cat sitting on the leather couch and ran for the door, leaving the house to burn empty.

She only spent one night outside —the state always found her, always took her back to yet another identical foster home— but she had met a woman named Dandelion who had shared soup and told stories about living in Oklahoma City.

"Remember," she had grabbed April's shoulder and tugged her closer, "don't let anyone push you around. You fight back until you're dead. You understand that?"

April had nodded. Dandelion's lips were split from the dry heat of the Oklahoma summer. April had offered her a tube of chapstick.

When they put her in the back of the police car, black and white and flashing red all over, she bit the man who tried to yank the bandana from her head. He had recoiled and she had spit blood at his feet.

Fight back until you're dead.

--

She listened patiently to Ehren's stories about the army.

He was too idealistic, she decided. The world needs changing, yes, but very little can be accomplished with guns. April took a bus out to Tulsa once and stood in the flat, dusty square holding a cardboard sign that read, "Know Justice, Know Peace."

At the end of the day, people were still dying in distant mountains, and April had wandered home feeling as if she had slept her entire day into nothingness.

"Every man in my family has served in the armed forces. I was expected to bring home a stack of medals. I wasn't cut out for the soldiering life. I think I was meant to be a hippie or a pinko or something."

She reached out to touch his shoulder, run her fingertips gently, gently down his arm. Then she ripped her hand away as if his skin burned hers and tucked her hand under one sweat-sticky thigh.

"I wasn't really cut out for life in general," she offered, in the kind of mournful tone usually reserved for dying spinsters and remorseful, estranged wives. "I don't know what the men in my family did. I don't know my family."

"No?"

April blinked at him, a little taken back by his curiosity.

"I was in foster care," she said with carefully crafted nonchalance. "It wasn't a big deal. People are fuckers. I got over it pretty quickly." This is a lie, and she is good at telling it. So good at telling it, in fact, that Ehren just went back to driving and didn't say anything else about it.

"Why aren't you in the military any more?" she asked, a hundred miles later. She had asked before. "You're just...floating now."

"I like floating."

"It could have been lonely."

"It wasn't."

She reached out, rested her hand on his shoulder. "Story time?" she pleaded, eyes as wide as they would go. She could feel the taut pull of her conscience then: step back, don't touch, don't get too near. He will smell you. He will find some defect in your facade and he will unmask you.

April let go.

For a moment, Ehren just stared at the road and said nothing. Finally, he slowed the car down a little and slid his eyes over to study April.

"I was in Bosnia," he began. He was in Bosnia. That was a universe ago. Can you measure in universes? He wasn't sure. "And there was this woman named Anissah who lived in this little town near where I was stationed."

He pulled into the breakdown lane, just in case. The car idled.

"And she had this...kid. Half Serbian, about two years old. One of the guys took a picture and gave it to her and she carried it around all the time."

April examined the fond smile on his face.

"And then...I don't know. They started clearing people out. Croats started flooding in —this was before the case-fire— and people started rioting? And she was one of them. This...sea of veils, and she was there. Protecting her child, which is what anyone would do, right?"

His chest rose and fell sharply.

"We were supposed to use force if necessary to stop the riots. Force if necessary. When is force ever necessary?" Ehren shut his eyes and drew his legs up from beneath the dashboard to perch on the edge of his seat. Outside the breakdown lane, in the stream of the highway, the rest of the world flowed onwards. "And I couldn't. She was just doing what everyone else was doing. She was protecting the things she cared around and I was supposed to shoot her over it."

He threw up his hands.

"It didn't even make sense any more. We were supposed to be on her side."

In 1973, during the Cold War, the Chilean general Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte overthrew the democratically-elected Socialist president of Chile, Salvador Allende. Ugarte was backed by the combined Chilean forces and the United States Federal Government. The violent coup d'état ultimately instated an era of military dictatorship marked by numerous human rights violations. Ironically, the goal of the United States was to prevent a Marxist government from forming in Chile.

War makes no sense.

"I'm so sorry," she said, because those were the words that came to mind. She unbuckled her seat belt and wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, as if this would make it better and this would end the war.

It didn't, the way her Know Justice, Know Peace sign hadn't.

She could feel his breath against the side of her neck, panicked. He ran her hands through his hair. Head bowed like a wrecking ball suspended from a crane, Ehren sobbed into her shoulder.

He had a breakdown in the breakdown lane.

"It's okay," April whispered. Her fingertips traced the shell of his ear. "It's all right. Everything is all right now."

This might have been a lie, but she was too caught up in the heady mixture of tragedy and proximity to analyze the statement for universal truth. Instead she pressed her forehead against his and held tightly to a partial stranger.

"It's not all right," he said. "But thank you. I never told anyone that. Someone else shot her because I couldn't do it and I got sent home because I was a cowardly."

"Never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what's right," Dandelion had said as she took another long drink of clear alcohol. She had read it in an Isaac Asimov book and forgotten about it. The words echoed in the back of April's mind and she repeated them.

"Sense of morals," echoed Ehren. He laughed a little and relaxed, inch by inch, into her arms. He let his eyes flutter shut and they stayed there, foreheads pressed against each other, breath meeting in the gap between them.

She opened her mouth to say something (maybe "relax"?) and instead she pressed her mouth firmly against his.

Their tongues dueled.

April always hated that description. Their tongues dueled. She imagined there were better ways to describe kissing, to pin down the sensation of warm bodies sealed against each other, pressed against walls or beds or car seats. Dueling implied some sort of contention, some argument or fight.

There was no fight here.

Once she pulled away from Ehren long enough to catch her breath, all sorts of better analogies flooded into her head— their tongues met like two lions; they kissed like two starfish tasting each other with their tender bellies; they brushed their lips together like paintbrushes against a mirror.

Red-faced, April inched back against the car door. "Sorry," she apologized, resting her forehead against her knees. She scolded herself: you have made things infinitely worse, thought she, because now if you ever tell him what you really are, he'll probably kill you.

She had heard stories like this before.

Fight back until you are dead.

"Don't be sorry."

"But I am sorry."

She running her hands through her hair, wriggling her thin feet into her green converse. They matched her floral print skirt. Without thinking, she threw open the door and stepped out into the heat of the California sunshine. Below them, a city: of angels, of thieves, of travelers. She was a traveler, for sure, and perhaps a thief: what right did she have to the identity she had crafted?

April climbed down the hill beside the highway— rocky, loose, slick with the crushed leaves of purple-flush succulents. She struggled to keep her footing, but she had always been well-balanced.

Luckily, it wasn't far into the belly of Los Angeles.

Dirty, dirty Los Angeles. The air smelt like people swearing and cars, sizzling with road rage. Dandelions sprung up from the cracks in the mottled sidewalk. All the buildings had squares of mismatched colors painted onto them, to cover up graffiti and chipping paint.

Who the fuck uses scarlet paint on a blue building?

As it turns out, the people clearing off the graffiti on this particular blue building.

"April!"

She whirled around. "What do you want?" she asked, but she knew the answer already— he wanted something she didn't have, some mysterious and ethereal shroud of womanhood that she had yet to wrap around herself. She stood on the sidewalk, wilting like a flower with the first frost of October (later, maybe, since this is Los Angeles).

"I'm...I didn't..."

April eyed him. She told herself: if you had one, you would be a selfish cunt. Instead, you're just selfish. She reached out to brush strands of hair from his face. "I'm not...what you think I am." she whispered. And in case those were the last words she would ever speak, she added, "Friends applaud, the comedy is over."

She had always liked Beethoven.

"You're not an escaped convict, are you?"

April shook her head.

She shuffled into the Ralph's market, through the automatic doors, breezed past the blooming floral section to the employee-only entrance and to the bathrooms that would inevitably be there because that is always where the bathrooms are. The men's bathroom had horrible lighting, lines of urinals and white walls in an attempt to be sterile. It was a wonder he could stand to look at her— her skin tinged green; the imperfections in her complexion were fuchsia.

And there, April undressed.


II.

The former-private Ehren Wilson drove down the highway.

He was still Ehren Wilson. Just not Private Ehren Wilson. He was no longer stationed in far away Bosnia, and he would no longer wake up to bombs or screaming or shots being fired. There would be no more haunted-eyed women or little girls with blood between their legs. He would no longer be expected to slam bullets into the chests of bare-foot teenage boys.

As it turns out, the magic words had been "I refuse to kill that woman."

He came home on a Friday and his mother had picked him up at the airport. She wouldn't look at him, and instead she kept her eyes firmly glued to the road. Her knuckles turned white around the steering wheel and her mouth was thin, small, her shoulders squared. He remembered her younger.

"Mom—"

"Don't, Ehren," she had said. She slowed the car at the red stop sign. "I...I can't talk to you right now."

"Mom—"

Her shoulders had slumped and the anger flooded from her face. She rested her forehead on the steering wheel. "Ehren," she began, and stopped because she had had nothing else to say. Ehren kept his eyes fixed on the span of her cheek, and when tears began to leak like melting diamonds from the edge of her eyes, he traced the trails of cleanliness they left on the skin.

"Do you hate me?"

Her head jerked up. "No." She shook her head, covered her mouth with her hand, as if shocked that he would think that about her. He was her son, prodigal or not, and she loved him regardless. "I could never hate you."

"Are you ashamed of me?"

"No."

But love was not enough to ensure truth.

So Wednesday morning, before anyone else was awake, Ehren left the house and began driving down the slim strip of high way.

Missouri melted into Oklahoma. The sun burned in the sky like a white-hot penny. Ehren drank three cans of red bull and a day-old bran muffin from the grocery store.

He opened the door for a hitchhiker. She had legs like a calendar spread and eyes like the scales of a dragon in the nude. He introduced himself as Ehren Wilson and she introduced herself as April.

They drove along the highway, listening to Gospel on the radio.

He moved to change the station.

"That's the only thing you'll get," April had said snappishly. Her gaze was directed at her lap, at her hands, and she didn't look up at him even when he looked over at her. "And if not that station, another one just like it." Her voice was the bitter rind of a melon.

"Not a fan?"

"Not a fan."

He turned it off.

They drove along the highway, listening to nothing because the radio was off.

She talked about herself. He let her, because it's not nice to interrupt women when they are speaking. Not anyone, but especially not women. The things she talked about were shallow: her dog, her family, her job working at the all-nite diner. They were things she would tell someone with whom she was riding an elevator or, at best, someone with whom she had been trapped in an elevator for several hours.

Eventually, it got dark.

"Do you...want to be dropped off somewhere?" Ehren kept his eyes firmly on the road, hands at two and ten. When he had become a defensive driver was as of yet undetermined, but since he'd arrived back in a country that had consistently working traffic lights, he had discovered that he rarely sped up to get through the intersection on the amber light.

"It doesn't matter," said April. She clipped and unclipped her barrettes. She held her legs up against her body like shields. Her eyes flicked back and forth, tracking the neon swipes of small towns as they streaked by her window. "I don't know anyone...anywhere. Actually." She pressed her forehead against her knees.

Ehren debated the pros and cons of asking her to come with him.

Pros: Intelligent, captivating, beautiful.

Cons: She could also be an escaped convict.

He told himself that was a silly thing to worry about. At worst he would be slapped, but since the car was chugging along at 40 miles an hour at half-past ten at night, she was unlikely to storm off.

"Do you want to come with? I'm just going to Los Angeles. I don't know anyone there or anything, but it seems like as good a place as any to go."

His brother used to tell horror stories about Los Angeles. He had visited the city once on a class trip. "Everything was concrete," he would say, leaning forward and lowering his voice to a panicked whisper. "All the nature was destroyed and Jesus had left. The whole city was dead."

Then he had rolled his eyes back in his head and pretended to be Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

"Fine with me." April adjusted her denim bag awkwardly on her lap. She looked out the window, and for a few minutes, the only thing Ehren could make out of her face was the very corner of her eye. Everything else was lost in the ripples of her hair and the curve of her neck. "If you try to touch me, I'll break your face. You think I can't. But I will. I will break. Your. Face."

She spoke in the familiar accent of fear. He decided, right off the bat, that he didn't like the country that made women speak like that. He would bring up its bombing at the next UN meeting. He recognized it from the owl-eyed Bosnian girls, combatants where there never should have been combat, the half-Serbian war orphans whose first words would bear the same lilt

"I believe you," he said, and he made himself believe it.

For a few miles, neither of them said anything. April slurped melted purple slushy through a red straw and it stained her mouth the color of bruises.

"Thanks, by the way."

"It's no problem. It's pretty boring all the way out here."

He saw her neck twist a little as she smiled.

--

In the army, Ehren had a friend named Luke.

Luke had strange looking eyes, like storm clouds, and thin, paper skin that covered the blood of his warm body. He smiled easily, mouth full of pearls, and he was an expert shot.

As it turns out, he was also a homosexual.

Ehren and Luke sat on the top of the boxy car they had borrowed to secure the perimeter of some small Bosnian town whose name he has long since forgotten. Even though they were always supposed to bring the armored car, guns and guns and guns, most of the time, they just drove out the little boxy car and waited.

It's not like anyone in that little town had a gun anyway.

He wasn't even sure what it was that he was watching.

"I'm gay."

Ehren had almost fallen off the car. The metal made a noise that sounded like the word "warble" if the word warble were the sound of metal bending awkwardly. The car wasn't really made to support people sitting on it, but it was white and not too hot and it didn't look intimidating.

They were just hired guns anyway.

"Seriously?" Ehren had wrinkled his nose, but refrained from adding, "Sick!"

"Yeah."

"Why are you telling me this?"

In the distance, the sun threatened to explode on the horizon. Light burst from the glowing ball of red rising from the ground, the way it did every morning. The day came together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle put together with invisible hands.

Luke had peered out at the horizon from underneath his Panama hat, which was not particularly well-named, since Panama hats were first worn in Ecuador. "Because," he said, in a slow, measured voice that didn't sound at all like the bubbles of syntax that usually sprung from his throat. "I needed to tell someone, and you are my best friend."

Ehren had never been anyone's best friend before.

"Oh."

He considered. "Fags are sick," his father had told him once, already on his fifth beer. He was a fat old military man, Ehren's father, washed up like a prize fighter who had lost his final fight. "They aren't like you or me."

"Do you...like anyone?"

Luke had snickered. "What are we, high school kids? I'm too busy...what was it, serving my country? Is that what they call it these days? Serving my country." He gestured at the little town, sprung up just below the line of sun and sky and earth and light.

"Oh."

And they had sat there a while longer in silence. Ehren let the news settle into his skin, and he turned the words over in his mind. The shock had worn off— it had been static anyway.

"I won't tell anyone," Ehren said finally. "I don't want you to get in trouble."

Or killed.

He had heard stories like this before.

"Thanks." Luke drew tiny circles on the warm metal of the car. He was shaking, in a way he hadn't been before, or in a way that he had been able to hide with cockiness that he couldn't hide any more. "I...I don't know. It's not...not something I chose, and I'd change it if I could, but—"

"Don't," Ehren interrupted. He blinked, as if someone else had spoken. He had expected some rage, some betrayal to bubble up within him: how dare Luke keep this from them, he was sure he would say, but instead, he said something else. "No. You're fine. As you are. I mean. Who cares if you're queer? You're the best shot out of any of us." He slid his eyes over to Luke, who looked a little bit surprised but mostly pleased. "How long have you even known?"

"A year or two." His eyelashes fluttered like butterflies and mosquitoes. He spoke in ellipses with words in between. "Late bloomer, I guess."

"The rest of us have time to end up being queer too. So don't worry about it."

On the day Luke died, ripped apart by a bullet from a gun whose name he did not know, he said only three words to only one person. The way he said them (spitting blood, sobbing silently into Ehren's shoulder) made them irrelevant— they were only thanks, only gratitude, as he disappeared in his best friend's arms.

--

The evening they arrived in the City of Angels, April and Ehren parked the Sunbird over the Los Angeles River and ate Burger King from greasy paper bags. April sipped her diet Pepsi and Ehren crammed cold french fries into his mouth. The water was murky. They sat on the hood of the car, and it felt oddly familiar.

"You don't need to drink diet Pepsi," he had said. "You're really thin."

"I like how it tastes."

This sounded like a lie.

The dying sun was all sorts of red in every direction, spraying the color of roses over a dark, starless blanket. Shadows marched in strange formations that looked familiar and at the same time, unsettling. Once the brightness has dissolved into the night, no trace of this bloodshed will remain; temporarily, orange light, filtered through sunsets and fires both earthly and ethereal, lit up the swell of April's flyspeck breasts and distant, violet mountains. His eyes moved down her body— her belly was not Barbie's belly, her hips were not Barbie's hips, her legs were not Barbie's legs. Her shoes, even, were converse.

"What are you looking at?"

"You."

He saw her face flush.

--

She kissed him and he kissed her back. After all, he had cried in front of her.

She got out of the car and he followed her into the Ralph's supermarket for much the same reason. That, and she was the closest thing he had had to a friend since Luke had died. It seemed like the only thing to do was follow her and find her and tell her that whatever she was hiding was all right, even if she was an escaped convict.

After all, he had killed people.

"And this...this..." April leaned against the white tiles of the wall, in front of the door. She wriggled out of her skirt, shoes off but socks still on. Her shirt went. Napkins poked out of her bra.

Ehren arched an eyebrow.

And then April wasn't standing there any more. She had transformed part-way into something else, someone else; she had assumed another skin in strange places, and Ehren's eyes followed the curve of her body to examine them.

"Oh," he said.

"Hank," drawled April, whose name was one Hank. She held out her hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance."

Had she not been naked in a Ralph's supermarket, Ehren was sure she would run away.

Instead, he shook her hand. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, ma'am. Again." He took a polite step back. "Is that why you ran off a minute ago?"

"No. It's because I wanted to go for a walk." She collected her clothing, straightened it carefully over her thin frame. "Yes, of course that's why I ran off a minute ago. Sorry. For...everything. I guess. I don't know."

He inched closer to her. Her body tensed, even as he touched her hips to draw them closer to him. Their mouths met —like the joining of storms, the meeting of rivers, the burning of fires— and her willow tree arms wrapped around his shoulders.

"I think I could fall in love with you," he said.

"Really?"

"Yeah. Didn't you ever see Some Like It Hot?" Ehren pulled back to peer into her face. "Jack Lemmon rips off his wig at the last moment and tells Joe E. Brown that he's a man and Joe E. Brown says, 'Well, nobody's perfect.' Not that you're a man and not that you're not perfect— am I making any sense?"

He searched April's face.

"Yes," she said finally. "You're making sense."

They shuffled from the Ralph's restroom and back up the hill. The Pontiac Sunbird was right where they left it.

"It's an omen," said April. "If this was a bad idea, someone would have stolen the car."

As it turns out, it wasn't a bad idea.


III.

April plays Beethoven for all her plants.

The youngest Yellow Jamaica Blitz tomato grows lazily on the window sill of the motel. It waves at her with its tiny leaves, swaying back and forth when she breathes. It is young. It has yet to grow strong and until then, April takes good care of the baby plant, snug in its terracotta pot beside its brothers and sisters. The light in this flat, waterless country is good all year round.

She wears her hair in a braid down her back, jeans that are tight in the right places to disguise all the things that she is not. She still wears Retro Red lipstick and it still does not smear.

"What's for dinner?"

Ehren dangles his legs over the couch. It is a motel couch, and motel couches are suspect. He still checks it compulsively for lost change and smashed goldfish crackers, even though he and April have lived there for three months. The monthly rent, as it turns out, is not very expensive.

April plucks the golden globe from a mature Yellow Jamaica Blitz. She tosses it from hand to hand and leans against the counter.

"Spaghetti."


I seem to be on a road-trip kick.
Considerable homage/pillaging of Tom Robbins, Jorge Borges, and Frank O'Hara.
Most of it is courtesy of the trans girl at my college, both because she looks like April but also because she gave me drugs that made me talk to myself a lot.

Thanks to the Italian and SerialXLain for offering me advice and help and stuff.

Reviews and shit are love.