Little Wing – Gwen Hilton

        I haven’t been at a Christmas party like this since I was 18. Maybe 19. That’s not true. I’d dated other people and been to large family gatherings, but this is different. Families with kids, grandparents, friends of all ages. It’s Christmas Eve and the sixth day of Hanukkah. 
        At 18 it was a Thanksgiving party. Everyone was going to take over the world. Projecting future plans. Guys were showing off their new XBOXes. Have you heard of Titanfall? Call of Duty kind of fell off introducing future shit, but Titanfall was always future shit. Secretly it’s way better. Everyone was drinking a lot. I was not. I had been mixing my pills and whatever anyone gave me for a while. Dropping out before semester one is done. Told my friend. We had about three more serious conversations before I never heard from him again. The doctor that gave me all the pills said I might be dying. He was a combat psychiatrist in Iraq and got a job inches above the Mason-Dixon line providing diagnoses and coveted pharmaceuticals to teenagers struggling with being away from their mothers. He said I displayed symptoms like the soldiers he knew. He said there’s no reason for that. I was on about seven pills, maybe eight and drinking and drugging. 
        So I stopped going out. I do only one drug. I still drink a little, but it destroys me. I like good liquor that makes the body sacrifice worthwhile. I have one or two unless I’m prepared for all kinds of bad. My gut was destroyed by other medicines. I don’t go out because I’m weak. 
        I’m here with my girlfriend because it’s her family and sadly, none of her friends. We’ll catch them on other days. Her parents made reference to their knowledge that I dated Dr. Quardy’s kid. They lived in a nicer neighborhood about three miles away in Michigan. In Chicago their addresses were shockingly close. Triangulating around each other like the square and the compass. 
        When we walk into the mansion there’s a large upside down Christmas tree in the foyer. A model train is built under the tree. We’re welcomed by Terry. 
        Terry got kicked out of school in a frat hazing incident. He finished his degree elsewhere. All the men he was in the frat with did not get punished. He was scapegoated, likely due to his inability to afford the attorney everyone else was hiring. Contrary to popular belief, Terry had quite a few nights without food in his youth. His family ascended as he aged and by his teen years he was the most broke of the not broke. Always hanging around richer kids. He wanted to make sure his kids didn’t have many wants. His parents wanted him to learn a valuable lesson about actions having consequences. Terry or his friends forced a young man to eat only a couple, maybe a few, live geckos to cement his lifelong friendship with his brothers. The young man had survived trials like dodging bottles being thrown at the wall during parties and sweeping them up with bare feet. He had been puked and shat on. He threw up the lizards and felt them clawing in his insides before he vomited. He went to the hospital. He had something like Salmonella. He almost died. His rich parents sued. He chokes up every day. He’s a shell of himself. He can feel the lizards in his throat licking and screaming.
        Terry is a new man with four children. He is a successful salesman who has built a life out of almost nothing with an incredible woman. Terry is in no uncertain terms the spitting image of the American dream, the Prodigal Son, and many other essential myths that become specific truths under great pressure. He credits his change to meeting his wife. She was bartending. They live in a good neighborhood. Their house is paid off. The kids are raised celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah because Terry married a Jewish woman. Terry is wearing blue. He’s wearing Detroit Lions merchandise. He doesn’t drink, but he’s playing bartender. Gerry is wearing blue. Gerry is best dressed of the relatives at this party by a country mile. She looks happy. Her sweater is blue and has large intertwining threads on the front. On holidays Terry plays bartender and reminisces on how they met. He makes her strong drinks that she can luxuriate in by the fireplace. 
        I can’t see the kids, but I can hear them. Terry’s kids are twins at eight, five, and just under two. Ricki’s kids are six and three. Ricki’s daughter is already quite similar to Ricki. Terry, Ricki, and Bethany are siblings. Bethany is not here. Terry and Bethany have worked hard for their lives. Terry is better off than Bethany. Bethany did it quite literally alone. She’s proud. Ricki was the baby and always assumed she’d inherit the father’s mantle. He’s grown a nice nest egg in the years since the hazing incident and is unmistakably a rich man. He’s not the richest man and he’ll let you know. He doesn’t realize just how much better off he is than most. He is generous enough to host. His name is Todd. 
        Todd is my girlfriend’s uncle. Todd’s wife and sister are named Debbie. There’s a good Debbie and a bad Debbie. Bad Debbie has a job offer for me. I need employment. Bad Debbie’s job offer is an unacceptable offer. Sliding scale pay in six months with ongoing work up to the end. She’ll break the news on Christmas day. People will explain to me that Bad Debbie has a history of talking things up just to be wanted. More than anything she wants to be wanted and she’s not secure in herself so she can’t advertise any reason for you to want to know her.
        You could say I have uncle issues. Todd doesn’t trust me for a myriad of reasons. Most of them relate to his niece’s first partner being a woman, and a woman up for debate at that. Everyone’s trying to be better about that because it’s a new and different world. Earlier in the day I saw Todd’s other sister’s kid. They’re trans to me, because I’m trans and they’re not to their mom. Bad Debbie is their mom. The closeted trans child loves to hide things from their mom. They hid a septum piercing, first tattoos, risky behaviors, an instagram, the fact that the instagram is an OnlyFans ad (do they report that income?). My girlfriend’s mom says she. Everyone of that generation does. My girlfriend’s sister doesn’t know what to say. On the private sex worker instagram it’s they. Everywhere else? I just met their boyfriend. Their boyfriend has an eighty dollar manicure. He’s French meaning he’s a child of immigrants. He’s an American. Like me. 
        Bad Debbie brought her kids and her kid brought the boyfriend over to my girlfriend’s house to cook apps for the next party. My girlfriend’s sister implied that something strange was up between Bad Debbie and her son Steve. Bad Debbie got sloshed and took a drink for the road at party one. Bad Debbie’s kid was so proud to trot out their new french boyfriend. They’re most likely moving in. They’re 23 and the boyfriend is 19. They talk about how funny it is having to buy alcohol for their French boyfriend. They’re gamers together because it’s so nonbinary to play video games. They ask me if I’ve heard of Valorant and I say what and we repeat the same. I say that I don’t play competitive shooters, because I don’t. I can’t even make it through most shooter campaigns now. They lean to me with their heavy chest puffed out and say “As an AFAB,” they nod and widen their eyes, “y’know, I got bullied out of the lobby immediately.” 
        “I don’t know.” I said. 
        They ask for video game recommendations. The boyfriend likes management and farming sims. I say buy the new version of Dwarf Fortress and Factorio. The closeted person feeds their boyfriend warm brie. The closeted person smolders at Steve and asks if he wants the same. Then they laugh and put some on a plate. The closeted person kisses their boyfriend when my girlfriend touches my shoulder. The closeted person asked my girlfriend’s sister to talk to Steve because he’s an incel. My girlfriend’s sister has never dated anyone. Nothing against her. Just not her place to speak. After the closeted person’s French boyfriend meets me the closeted person asks if he’d date someone with a dick. People do this a lot after they interact with me. I don’t know if it’s the whole no makeup, still femme, Borat-Borat-deep-voiced-false-dichotomy-failing-transsexual-thing or what, but it’s common. This person finds out that their French boyfriend that they want to move in with is straight, would never suck a dick, and they say what about a post-op woman? They’re asking all of this to my girlfriend’s sister. It’ll go to my girlfriend. It’ll go to me. So this person wants to move in with their boyfriend that would only fuck nonbinaries with pussies, but no matter who they date it’s gay. 
        The closeted person isn’t at the party I’m at because of how bad Todd is. Todd is callous. His comments leave marks for years. Todd emerges from behind Terry and gives me a side hug. Todd gives a big hug to my girlfriend. He asks what we want to drink. I say I’ll have a glass of whiskey on the rocks. He gives me good whiskey. My girlfriend has wine. 
        One of the girls grabs my girlfriend. It’s been a while since they’ve seen each other. Her name is Madeline. Madeline drags Cait to the fireplace. When I first met Madeline she was shy. Her little brother was still in a carrier. Madeline is an emerging star athlete now. Six years old with an Olympic spirit. Madeline has Cait look at the stockings. She puts her hand to her stocking and looks up at Cait. 
        “His name is on my stocking because he’s dead.” Madeline said. I met him once. He met me and I knew he had heard about me and I knew that he knew that he’d never see me again. I could see it in his eyes. That and everything else. And an indifference that scares me to this day. He was that close to death. He could barely put on a T-Shirt. He was resigned to the couch in constant pain trying to die with grace just after the birth of his second child. The risk of him dying before 40 was significant, but everyone had hope. 
        I turn around. I want a family and I know I won’t have it. I can’t afford it. People always ask if I’m going to have kids with Cait because I’m seen as a weird man. 
        I take my drink to the cookies and run into you. I don’t think I’d ever see you again. Of course I am eating. It’s one of those parties. Family and friends. And you’ve led a completely different life since we last saw each other. I did the same. We’re in the same house. You know me in ways no one else does. Not even my girlfriend. That’s hard for the holidays. It’s always the holidays.  
        We went on a few dates. Hemmed and hawed about what they were. You had a boyfriend in high school. I was envious and I wanted to be him. Then you met a girl and people stopped fucking with you and it’s been a long time. I get it. 
        You said hey first. I know you’d know it’s me. You get the upper hand. You’re creating the olive branch. Do we need an olive branch? I think I do. With everyone. Especially you. You know this will kill me. Because you know me in earnest. Now I’m cursed to wonder the intent. If I could lead I’d know. You know if I lead I corral. I say hey. I ask how you’ve been. 
        Over the holidays it’s good. It’s always good. Stressed, broke, but good. We’re trying to keep people happy. We’re strangers again. I’m someone else. You’re someone else. Are you here with anyone else? 
        Yeah. You work with Terry, but you’re also friends. And I get it. And my heart swells.
        You tell me you fucked around a lot since we last talked. You get it. I ask what you mean and you say you didn’t mean it that way. I was just younger than most people who burn up their lives. I couldn’t escape the one I burned up. 
        I don’t know if you mean it that way or not. I sip my whiskey and wrap up the conversation. I seek out Cait. When you ask me what I’m doing with my life I say nothing. I don’t want to say that, but it’s what comes out with people I like. 
        Cait is talking to Madeline’s mom. I walk up and say hey. I didn’t realize it’s her. New hair color since his death. She’s been trying to date. Men can’t make it to the third date with her. They don’t want to date a woman with young kids. My mom knew this problem well. I told her I heard about what happened at her business. It shut down. Sales aren’t what they used to be. Some former staff kept harassing her. They kept harassing Cait’s sister too. She said she’d never work for a family business again. I apologize and she responds that she knows these women only did this because of how bad their households are. She feels bad for them. I don’t have that grace and forgiveness. I don’t want someone to die for me to learn it. A lot of people have died and I haven’t. 
        I tell Cait I’m going to step outside. Quite a few people have asked for my jacket. There’s a lot of reasons I haven’t taken it off. Yes, I am signaling that this is a temporary spot and I want to be ready to go. Also, my tits haven’t stopped growing. I didn’t wear a bra because I’m trying to relax. There’s no way to avoid them now. If they weren’t set on such a wide frame I bet a lot of women would kill for them. Nice hang on top.
        You meet me outside. Your brother showed me Aphex Twin. We watched the “Windowlicker” and “Come to Daddy” videos on the same day. You showed me Metroid Prime. I wanted to be you. We met in fifth grade. You told me you knew how to fight because kids aren’t pussies in Mexico. You learned to fight on the fútbol pitch. Your brother called our classmate’s sister Hooker Boots. Being around you for a moment blew open my world. I’m vaping. I’m always vaping. 
        You pull out your vape. As you exhaled you said “What happened? You’d do anything but drugs.”
        “Now I only do drugs. Don’t you see how dangerous they are?” I said. You laugh. The same laugh.
        “I think you’re still an outlier there, man. I’m sorry.” You said. 
        “I’m not going to do that to you.” I said. I smile. We catch up. You are part-owner and operator of a restaurant alongside your current job. More owner than operator, but you take weekend shifts. Business is good and it never is with restaurants. You’re directing. You finished your first short. You say you’re gonna send me the Vimeo link. You don’t.
        Cait comes out and I make the introduction. I say I’ve known you for a long time. This surprises Cait. There’s rarely good news in that statement. We smoke. We go back inside. The children are invited to race downstairs. 
        The basement has a small painted course only a kid on a small bike can race on. I am the referee with Cait. I do one lap on an office chair with my whiskey. I am thoroughly chastised for drunk driving. I struggle to understand kids not easily counting laps. They’re so in the moment. They’re young. I don’t get it. I think about all the ways in which I don’t know how to interact with children. I think about how I’ll never be a mother. I think about how I can’t fathom being a good mother. The kids do laps and I sip whiskey and they look at me and Cait and Cait assists them. I look at her and I worry one day she’ll want something I can’t give her. Todd riles the kids up and makes it a betting game. The kid with ten dollars doesn’t win any races because he knows he has money. His twin brother cheats knowing they’ll be confused for each other. Madeline wins wins wins. That’s always what she does. Until the cheater smashes her foot. Grant smashes his foot in an accident. He’s a baby and he’s always getting hurt. Madeline and Grant compete in their cries and when Madeline is done being hurt she fakes harder. She puts her face into the bike seat and I can see her smile. She’s done this before. I don’t chastise. 
        We go upstairs for the Menorah lighting ceremony. I tend to the fire until people are ready. Todd inquires about my ability. Men are always impressed by my ability to keep the hearth. 
        Terry begins the ceremony. He’s serious about raising his children with Judaism in their lives. After the fourth candle is lit Todd interrupts and pulls it out of the Menorah. He snuffs the candle and uses the Shamash to relight it. He lights the advent candles with the menorah candle and returns it to the eighth day position. Terry’s face contorted, but he didn’t interrupt the event. Right at the end one of the twins acknowledges the mishap. Terry said “Some rich symbolism.”
        The twin said “Huh. Rich symbolism.”
        I think about how the man in front of me and the man I’ve heard about are two separate people. I think about how he’s a tremendous father. Grant was crying that he couldn’t light candles. He’s not even a Protestant really. Too young to understand anything that’s happening. When the Jewish kids get Hanukkah presents Grant cries. Todd says just give him a present too. The people acquiesce. He screams when he opens it and throws it. Ricki just sits there as this happens. She didn’t stand for the Menorah lighting. She says some variation on I know he’s annoying. 
        I leave to piss. 
        I don’t see you emerge from a hallway as I’m walking to the bathroom. The bathroom is off to the side by the front door. There’s a staircase. You tap my shoulder. I turn. You kiss me. I won’t stop you. You’re quick, but not too fast. You pull away. “I didn’t know I’d ever see you again. I knew you’d never do this.” You said as you pulled open the bathroom door and pulled me in. 
        “I actually have to piss.” I said.
        “You can piss.” You said. 
        “I don’t know if I can.” I said. You click the door locked. 
        “Sit down and piss.” You said. I take off my jacket. I take off my jumpsuit. I pull down my underwear and you’ve only just kissed me. I sit down and I can’t piss. My dick is half hard and still small. I can tell none of this matters for you, but it matters for me. It does.
        “Is this a thing for you?” I said. 
        “If it helps you piss, absolutely.” You lean down and kiss me. I press on the top of my stomach and start to piss. 
        “Can I take out my pajarito?” You ask.
        “Yes.” I say. It’s in my mouth before I’m done pissing. I feel you getting hard on my tongue. 
        “You can’t kill this bird. Don’t bite. Cheep cheep cheep.” I feel my dick get harder against the toilet seat. I can’t believe you’d say that in my mouth. I look up and you’re smiling. There’s a banging on the door. 
        “I need the bathroom! I need the bathroom!” Grant is yelling. 
        I pull you out of my mouth.
        “Occupied.” I say.
        “It’s Terry. Leave him alone. Come with me. We have lots of other bathrooms.” Todd says around the corner.
        We hear footsteps and I resume. “Uh. Poo-tee-weet. I saw you perform in a dress once. I bet you didn’t even know. I left right at the end of your set. You’ve always dated pretty girls, but you can’t even talk to pretty boys.” You said. I performed in a dress four times total. There is one photo not taken on a phone. I don’t know if it has even been developed. I fucked the photographer and before I fucked her she told me she has a problem shooting bands, fucking a member, and never posting the photos. You cum in my mouth. I swallow. You kiss me once more. I leave. Then you do. I get a refill on my whiskey. 
        I sit around the model trains thinking about what I’ve done. I don’t know where Cait is. I had a model train as a child. I loved them. I had a big book of Thomas stories. I met a conductor and locked cars once. I love to ride the train to this day. I like to sit and watch them pass. I think about those model trains of my youth or even the wooden tracks. I think about all the times I wanted to die and my mom would talk about the trains. I didn’t appreciate it at all. A road of your own to pave. I’ll never have a family like this. I feel like an interloper. On the edges of a different one. I’m lucky to realize how magical it was to ever experience these things. I’m thankful for the clarity. I fix the rails and watch the train mosey. I adjust the speed with the knob. Madeline comes to sit next to me. She’s always looking to the adults for better and worse.  She says the train is cool. Grant comes and sits down too. It’s the first time he’s been patient and peaceful. I try to add a car and get the lead off the track. Grant says “Tell him to fix it.”
        Madeline says, “her,” in a near whisper.
        “Tell him.” Grant said.
        “Her.” She said gently.