I changed my name,” Chris announces. It’s sudden, but with a casual tone, revealing and not, like it means nothing and comes from nowhere. Chris isn’t one to give up personal information easily, and even less when trying with purpose to tease it out of her. So Dan of course seeks the meaning and location instantly.

“I was tired of being Crístíona,” she explains, putting on an enunciated yet drawn-out accent for emphasis, evoking a disappointed mother.

“I can be that if I need to be, in a dreary lightless cottage somewhere in the country… but that’s no one to be in America. That’s some... dirty little beggar girl. So I changed it. To be someone here. Well, there.”

“You could be her here,” suggests Dan, invitingly. “You know I won’t tell. Besides, I’d like to meet her.”

“Ha ha.”

She’s quiet again.

“Christine is a line in the sand,” asserts Dan, but it’s a question.

“Yes,” she says. “It’s a statement: Christine . Simple.”

Chris folds her fingers against the knit of her skirt, grazing her knuckles up and down the weave. Dan sees her bite her lip before she snaps her head up again.

“So, what about you?”

Dan peers at her evenly, then sucks the inside of his cheek as he looks away and back again, exhaling as he says,

“ … I don’t think so,” from under his thick eyelashes.

“Come on. I told you my thing!”

“Hm… You don’t think that’s a little different?”

“Well is it?”

Dan cracks a bigger smile, it’s earnest as much as it guards him. Taking the edge off, letting this roll off of him until he’s endeared by her again. Panic runs a quick lap in his chest.

“If I told you,” he begins, twisting his body clockwise in his chair to lean forward on the table, “that’s how you’d see me. Somebody long gone, and shouldn’t’ve existed anyway. I don’t want that at all.”

He turns his head away slow , then quickly back again with a blissful smile. It’s clear he knows he’s being annoying.

“Like Pandora’s box.”

Chris frowns to his smile, how he says these things while looking at her like he’s reminding her of some bigger truth— and frustratingly, he is, it’s just that this is the most paternal he’s seemed so far.

“Besides, you wouldn’t be able to pronounce it. Crístíona,” he says, pulling the same mean Irish accent as her, “is pretty easy. No offense.”

“Ooh, okay,” Chris shoots back, “well go raibh maith agat, Dónaill.”

Dónaill? Dan mouths, pointing at himself.

Chris laughs a little, but of course every time she speaks any bit of Irish, or reveals any bit of the shame that is Irishness at all, she becomes viciously embarrassed, which she has to do her best to stifle. And she is not good at it.

She reaches for her coffee, black, sketo, and minding the unfiltered sludge at the bottom, she sips it and swallows hard before speaking again. Dan gives her room for that now. But he hadn’t realised this was going to be their evening.

“You sure you want to be drinking that? It’s late…”

“It doesn’t bother me,” she says. She holds the cup in her palms and moves on.

“If someone else had your old name, would you still hate it?

“Some people do have it. It’s got a tinge to it I guess… tainted a little, but I don’t hate it. It’s not mine to hate, it’s theirs.”

“Oh my god. Why are you talking like a poet?”

“Well forgive me for not giving a canned answer,” Dan rolls his eyes. “Maybe I’ve thought a lot about this before I ever met you.”

He gestures with one hand open, instructional. Otherwise he’s returned to sitting slouched in his seat as usual, leaning back, arms held close to his body. He says it with more intensity than he meant.

Chris taps her clear-painted fingernails against the ceramic mug, and, like that reminds her it’s still in her possession, drinks the last of it— save for the grounds of course, a quirk of Dan’s preparation and seemingly common up here in the territory, but not common on base. To suit the soldiers’ tastes, the cafeteria offers the type of biting American swill with which they’re both all too familiar.

Chris stands to bring her mug to the small and open kitchen, darker hair and clothes briefly contrasting the harvest gold cabinets above her head and then comes back quickly, nervous Dan will let the conversation die if she’s not there to resuscitate it.

And he surely tries to kill it, picking himself up from the chair, the metal legs grinding against chequered linoleum. Chris isn’t close enough to warrant it but she steps back as if to give him room, as if she takes up enough of it to stop him. She takes his cue, and sighs inaudibly.

In the bedroom though, he stands at the foot of the bed with his hand in his pocket. She isn’t looking at him now, already in her pajamas or what passes for them, a long shirt with pockets, not covering much of her legs when she sits with them crossed, setting the alarm clock on the bedside table.

Dan slips his fingers into his wallet, fishing for a second between his various IDs, and pulls them out again.

“Hey,” he thrums.

He holds the thinned and creased little photo in between his fingers, not looking at it. Chris raises her head, barely curious. Dan leans over and places the paper on the bed, then slides it, face down, over to Chris. She gives it a sideways glance, and snatches it up when she realises what it might be.

Dan’s hands are both in his pockets now. ⠀

“Who is this ,” Chris exclaims rhetorically. Dan purses his lips and shrugs.

“God…” says Chris, exhaling and then silent, turning it over in her hand.

“You look like such a…” but her voice cuts out.

“Go on,” lilts Dan, floating in it.

Dyke . It’s insane, Daniel.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I’d’ve been scared of you!”

“I know,” Dan says wistfully. “Scared to fall in love with me.”


“D████a,” came his father’s gruff voice in the back of the boat.

Dan— not yet Daniel, but no longer D████a either— leans his body up and back, twisting around to look at him. The old man lets the oar drag in the water.

“I have to know, kóri mou,” says his father. “Will you come back to see me? Before I too am gone.” ⠀

Dan meets his gaze until the sun cuts between them, awash with light like the water rushing to capture the shore. ⠀

“You’d want me to,” Dan wonders flatly, squinting, nose wrinkled, past the light until they bob out of its glow. ⠀

His father, severe,

“It would look bad if you didn’t.” ⠀

“You make it sound like you won’t be around long enough to feel the shame, though, so…” ⠀

Dan turns away again. He stretches his arms above his head, loose shirt billowing, salt clinging to his skin and his short choppy hair.

“None for me either,” he adds. This is a kindness he’s doing, with purpose. ⠀

The water stretches out before him, long and lonely, with the far-off strip of Assateague barely peeking over the barren horizon. Summer makes Daniel antsy, skin made to be exposed must be covered. But today is a day all days should strive to become, the kind that dawns warm and open with promise. ⠀

His father begins rowing again. Around sandaled feet baked brown from days spent alone on the water before Dan came home, rope and tackle boxes, a wicker basket, a book of poetry with its pages curled from humidity. An icon of Panagia Thalassini, tucked out of sight, warped in its laminate casing. Faithless vessel not without tradition. ⠀

Dan’s shirt means to tease flashes of new dark chest hair. He can’t bring himself to be shy about it yet; it’s an anxious dare, one he’s halfway fearful of being taken, but he hates it hidden, too. It’s a proud accomplishment. One his father will either hate or bemoan, but when it comes to his father, when it comes to Dan, the options are indistinguishable, leaving a careworn patina of unshakable adoration.

“I believe it will be soon,” predicts his father. “I can feel it weighing down my bones. My heart. A man can only lose so much before he wastes away.” ⠀

Dan sighs.

“You’re not going to die, papa,” he says, exasperated.

He turns around properly this time, swinging his bare, unshaved legs over the seat.

“And you haven’t lost me.”

His father’s eyes plead with him.

Dan tries to put away the chiding tone he lapses into when speaking with Savvas. He stays in place, rocking in the drift boat, but gathers himself seriously. He clasps his shirt closed, and then crosses his arms over his lap.

 “Remember, papa. I forgave you a long time ago.”

The calmness he tries to cultivate is for naught. His father shakes a free hand at him, pointing. ⠀

Too long ago— You didn’t know for what you forgave me.” ⠀

A sourness bites its way into Dan’s mouth. ⠀

“Do you want my love at all? Or do you want to tell me more about why I should revoke it?” ⠀

“Take it, take it, take it away from me, I don’t need it,” her father, indignant, arguing with himself and not his daughter.

“But if you can find it in you, take mine— and know that what you take is my heart, D████a!” he yells like his life depends on everything he says, although, thinks Dan, it doesn’t. Does it? A man convinced he’ll die before the year is out, what does  his life depend on?

“I’ll give you everything I have,” says his dad. “You know this.” He gestures as he talks, toward things, props, they don’t have in the boat. Pens, a desk. “It’s in your name. Not officially, not yet, but it’s in my writing, you understand?”


“Turn your heart away from me if you must, but take what I have. I only need to know you’ll come to me before I go.”

His daughter narrows her eyes. She wishes the opaque drops of salt dotting her glasses could be tears if it would move him, but she has none. It’s only the gentle ocean, and today, a day all days should hope to emulate, with its soft glow around the edges, offers no hope of swelling up and swallowing her. ⠀

Dan wipes his lenses on his shirt, talking as he peers up to make sure they’re clean. ⠀

“So, what about mama?” he asks, voice strained as he cranes his neck. “What’ve you left for her?” ⠀

“Your mama has her parents still ! She’s well cared for… she knows it. It’s no concern of mine.”

“Vlakas. That’s such bullshit,” Dan snaps.

“No, that’s not what I meant—”

“You should  be concerned. You want to keep your wife slaving away in kitchens til her back’s too warped to handle it, and then what? Fall down the staircase when I’m at school?”

“Ímarton Kýrie,” says his father, eyes skyward. “I— you are right… you are right… but you’ll know what to do with it. Disperse it as you like. You’re a wise girl. You know. Your sisters, all three of you will carry her, won’t you? You probably know how better than me, now. I trust you more than I trust myself.”

Dan is speechless. He begins a hundred different sentences in his head in the time it takes his father to give up waiting.

“I don’t want to fight, D████a.”

Dan’s mouth trembles open, big eyes searching the horizon.

“Please. Here, I… just once, while I have you, let me hold you,” her father stammers, sounding on the verge of crying. Air caught in D████a’s throat refuses to enter her lungs. She keeps inhaling but can’t force it in.

“Here?” she asks.

“Just to hold you. Look,”

Her father lunges forward, oar  loosened from its bronze lock and then it’s floating out from the boat with Dan’s attention, baleful, ready to scold until her father grabs her hands in his calloused paper palms. Burning. ⠀

“Don’t,” warns Dan, before his father can speak wet and broken. A stony darkness flashes over Dan like the shadows of seagulls, the sharp edge of that darkness  clearly piercing his father from the way his wrinkled face pulls and tightens into an anguished defeat. Dan hates the way his anger makes his father wither, a pretense, a reverse of role with no real application, not here or elsewhere. Not in the garden when he screams at the old man, standing up from his metal lawn chair, sending it flying back, making Dan’s mother hate her daughter for it, but Dan’s father never seems to waver in his love. He puts aside all else for her.

Dan’s hands are still caught. ⠀

Savvas goes to sit back down obediently but he’s unsteady and ends up kneeling on the bottom of the boat, unable to face his daughter even now that he’s got her. Dan stares down, noon shadow veiling his eyes, bitter and pitying at the crown of his father’s head. And when his father kisses the top of his hand, he must stare instead out over the side of the boat. Dan finds his heartless reflection distorted on the surface, roiled by the wind. But he can see himself well enough, and to her he says out loud,

“I don’t need to be bribed.”


Chris’ due date looms from their calendar. She insists on keeping active even when it hurts like hell, so the two of them cut work early for a hike up the slope. The rock is naked at this height, and it’s all the colours of sunrise as though the mountain tried to match its most frequent companion. The peaks up above are flocked with snow.

“There’s like a process to it, right? How do they know who…” Chris trails off, watching a sparrowhawk glide past below them. “Wow, look at that.”

“Yeah, almost got you there,” Dan smirks.

Chris whips her head around.

“How do they decide who gets to, like… do it…?”

She won’t entertain him for even a second, seems like.

“Um… I dunno,” Dan muses. “I guess there’s enough people to have developed some parameters for it,” Dan answers, shrugging. “Like with anything.”

“And you got perfect marks.”

“I, uh… yeah. If you like.”

It’s quiet again and the wind whistles between the rocks. Dan picks a red pebble off the ground. He lifts his glasses off his nose, rotating it in his fingers, just for something to do.

“The doctors wanted to know who between my parents I was closest to and why. If my mother or father themselves conformed to the appropriate roles, or if they deviated, and who I mirrored.”

It’s weird to talk about, so far away from the trappings of the life where it all occurred.

“Makes sense why, right?”

“Like if your mom was tough and pushy and your dad was a little wimp, that would make sense of something?" Chris asks, "Is that true? That’s not true... or is it...?"

     "I don’t know," Dan admits, uneasy. He throws a rock down into the ravine, the two of them listening for its dying echo.

     "I think psychotherapy’s so played out," says Chris, disgusted. “All this shit’s for weird, old guys who make up sex stuff because really they’re the sex freaks.”

      Dan snorts. Chris turns around, looking up at him with the sun in her face, but his head blocks it out.

     "Besides, you’re so tall, they should’ve let you do whatever you want."

     “What do you mean,” Dan laughs out the side of his mouth.

      “No normal guy wants a wife bigger and stronger than him. So they should’ve just…” she falters, “ … let you have your stuff… y’know?”

     “She thinks I’m big and strong,” Dan tells the canyon.

     Chris laughs a nasal Ha ,

     “It’s not an opinion, it’s just true. I mean you obviously want everyone to think that.”

     “Wow,” says Dan. “Well how much does that matter, anyway? Coming from someone weak, miniature… With your thimbleful of coffee for the day.”

      “Jesus christ,” Chris mutters.

      A minute goes by with no talking. Dan’s alright with it. Well, more time to think about how crazy it’ll be to have a little kid in the house. It’s exciting, to be sure, and he thinks the name he picked will win out over Chris’, but something about it keeps making his stomach hurt. As if reading his thoughts— thank God she can’t— Chris starts up again.

      “So I guess they were normal?” she asks.


      “You made it through. So that means your parents are like perfectly, fucking, normal?”

      Dan blinks vacantly. Then, mouth wide, laughs.

      “Oh, yeah.”


The doctor glances up from his notepad, tilting his head first at whatever checklist he’s pulling from, then finishing on Dan,

“Would you describe your mother as appropriately feminine?”

“Sure,” Dan answers readily, "she does everything expected of a mother. She raised four girls, so between all of us there was plenty enough femininity to go around."

“Hmmm…” muses the doctor.

Dan’s face is placid but a spike of ice skewers him from the back and begins ripping downward. He’s made a mistake.

“Well,” he adds, “she did work in the restaurants. And so did I. Plus, my father, he was old, he wasn’t well. He was absent much of the time, and his heart wasn’t in the family anymore. He neglected his responsibilities. I’m the eldest, so much of his work fell on me while my mother did her best to support us.”

“Is your father still alive?” asks the doctor.

"No," answers Dan, simply. He’s already told the doctor this.

“When did he pass?”

“A year back.”

“Oh,” says the doctor, “That must be very hard.”

“Yes,” Dan assures him. “Very hard. He was our pillar.”

“Even though he was distant, you said?”

Fuck, so this asshole is paying attention?

“He… yes. He was distant, but we still loved him.”

The doctor writes this down but doesn’t dwell on it for long.

"No brothers… Are there any other prominent men in your life? A stepfather, uncles, mentors…”

Dan shakes his head, silent.

“Have you had many boyfriends, Ms. Rallis?”

Dan smiles, huffing a laugh.

“I’m not attracted to men.”

“Really. Has that always been true?”

Dan pauses. He taps his fingers against each armrest.

“As far back as I can remember.”

He knows he’s about to do something unwise but there’s an itching in him like being jabbed with spurs when he’s already gunning for it the hardest he can.

“Can I ask…” begins Dan, leaning forward from his slouch. The doctor lifts his eyes up to meet his gaze briefly, whereas Dan’s dark eyes remain fixed.

“Why exactly do you think I’d lie to you?” he demands. Eyes widening, eclipsed by his smile but smiling less like a person and more like a street dog baring its teeth.

“If you were to lie, I don’t believe you’d do it consciously,” the doctor idly responds. Dan pays close attention to when the pen touches paper.

“We need to rule out that you’re not some sort of… fetishist.”

“Of course,” says Dan, without the remotest idea of what that might mean. He leans up again in his seat.

"I just, I struggle to think—” he begins, with a tone of amused astonishment, “What woman would come up with lie on top of lie, pay the financial cost, the social cost, all to dupe you, just so she might grow a mustache someday? Wouldn’t it be hard, keeping an inventory of all the fake stories just for the slim chance of accomplishing a real one?”

“A sick woman,” replies the doctor. “A mentally unsound woman.”

To this, Dan is quiet. When he remembers to, he begins nodding, to portray an understanding, hoping he didn’t take too long.

"Well, for whatever my opinion’s worth, I’m sound. I have one degree already," says Dan, slowly. "If you were to call me smart, I wouldn’t disagree. I plan to pursue my masters in biochemistry. I’ve held down jobs. I’ve provided for my family. But I want a career,” he stresses. “At no point have I imagined myself as a mother, or worse, pregnant, and with a husband.”

The doctor writes this down in his notes, a quiet, stark contrast to the passion Dan is working so hard to restrain, tying himself back from the inside out because he too easily fantasises about storming across the cherry wood desk with katabatic force to show this arbiter exactly how much he means it.

Failing that, and the doctor still jotting down his mysterious notes, Dan shakes his head, frustrated. He thrusts a hand into his hair, suddenly leaning into that arm, elbow bent sharp. He squeezes his eyes shut, then opens them again but looks away from the doctor.

“I’m supposed to be a man. I was put on this earth to be a man. It’s not supposed to be like this.”

“I know it must be difficult to talk about, Ms. Rallis.”

The doctor flips the page back to an earlier one, scanning it over before speaking again.

"You said you’ve been sexually active? Now, that’s with men or with women?"

Dan goes blank.

“I was with men a couple times as a girl. I didn’t like it at all,” Dan manages, gruff and sullen. “All wrong.”

Belatedly, he realises this question is a repeat. A trick? Or just incompetence? The doctor jumps ahead,

“Do you have any sexual partners  currently?”

“I had a girlfriend recently. But not currently.”

“Tell me about that. Were you open with her about your condition?”

“A little.”

“A little. In what context?”

Dan lifts his head away from his arm. When the doctor’s not looking, Dan’s mouth curls, repulsed.

“Bed,” he says flatly.

The doctor waits for more details. Dan looks around the room with a hushed groan.

“She thought I was a woman. That’s what she wanted, a woman. I couldn’t let that go on. I told her no, I’ll be the man. And she shouldn’t expect us to relate to one another along some shared lesbian axis. I would and could sleep with her if she treated me like a man. Otherwise, she could kick rocks.”

“And she was receptive to this?”

“She was,” Dan affirms, and grins, “multiple times.”

The pen trips over this.

“You were able to comfortably engage in sexual relations?”

“To a point.”

“Okay. What point was that?”

This shushes Dan. He leans his cheek into his knuckles.

“I do the work,” he says. “I don’t like to be touched. No one knows how to touch me right.”

“Well, what’s right?”

 “Whatever way will show they believe me.”

“That’s very interesting.”

Oh, goody.

“And you don’t think this is just self-denial of lesbianism? Being so stigmatised, it makes sense you’d suppress—”

“I am not a woman. I would like to become however much less of a woman you can make me.”

Dan has no discernible expression, which bothers the doctor somewhat, and Dan knows it. The doctor moves on.

“It’s as good a time as any, I suppose. Can you describe to me how you feel about your body?"

Now this feels so much like backhanding, Dan nearly goes cross-eyed. He releases his hand from his hair.

“In what way?”

“Sexually, how do you feel about yourself?”

“Well,” Dan says, not so much hiding his ire as quieting it, “I’d like to change some things.”

“So… give me a scale from 1 to 10. 1 being completely comfortable with your naked body, 10 being high emotional distress.”

Dan opts for a 9, whether he means it or not is unknown even to him. What kind of scale is this? In what context? With whom? He doesn’t dare ask these questions. He’s beginning to know better.

“When you cross-dress, how do you feel about it then?” The doctor gestures at him. “Like now, for instance.”

Dan is suddenly so aware so quickly of the fabric of his clothes against his skin that he has to steel himself from getting sick. He feels the doctor’s eyes blazing their way through him. The clothes are new, not too new, but new enough that he tried beating them up a little before he put them on for the evaluation.

“Where are you going in all that?” his mother asked, piling laundry into the hamper on top of the kitchen table. She was already looking away from him by the time he could look at her.

“I have an appointment.”

“With who? The tailor?”

“Do… you not like it?” Dan questioned, meaning it earnestly, but it doesn’t sound that way.

“No, I don’t like it. You look like— like you—” she sputtered and stumbled, and finally threw her hands into the air. “I don’t know  what you look like. What you look like, I’ve never seen it. Maybe I’m too poor.”

“Don’t do this now, mama.”

“That’s it. Maybe on the street, I wouldn’t think so. But look around,” she motioned to their small kitchen, clothes piled on the main metal table, the pots assembled for cooking but cooking hadn’t yet begun, and one sister hunched at the small desk by the refrigerator, trying her hardest not to listen. She was so small there Dan almost didn’t notice her, until he did. And mama herself, in her baggy work clothes, big wavy black hair pulled back loosely by black and gold barrettes.

“You want me to think I’m lower than you in my own home, bósena.”

“Why, because I put some fucking shoes on?” Dan asked, fishing for the car keys from a pocket on the coat rack. He looked back over his shoulder to see his mother, appalled and crossing herself.

“You’re not taking my car, too,” she shook her head in warning.

“Too? What too?”

“Buy your own damned car, you have so many places to be!”

“Can you stop me, mama?” Dan asked, suddenly flat, even, holding his palm open. She looked him up and down, wrinkling her nose, offended and confused by this.

“Sotia, do you hear her?” Dan’s mother turned to his sister.

Sotiria rested her head against the side of the fridge, not interested in joining the fray. Their mother went to her and touched her head, barely, hands hovering over her dark hair and shoulders like she was some fragile breakable thing.

“Well?” Dan asked, unmoved. “Are you going to stop me?”

“Just go,” his mother waved him off dismissively, sounding like she would cry, but never began, at least not while he was there.

A cream-coloured button-down shirt, blue-green suit jacket and matching fitted slacks cuffed above his ankles. Shirt collar open for the white undershirt and gold icon circling his neck. A bronze and brown leather wristwatch. His hair— they call this a pixie cut, something women can have now, so for as long as Dan’s masquerading as a woman, he slicks it into place best he can. Nails clipped short. Pack of cigarettes in his breast pocket. He really tried. In that sense, no different from most days.

Dan rubs his hand over his mouth and chin.

“I don’t like taking my clothes off,” he says, slurred by his fingers. He straightens up, stretching out his bent arm to loosen the muscles.

“So long as I don’t, even I can be convinced that maybe I’m the right thing, for a second. I feel handsome, the way a man might, so long as I don’t look further.His voice is thick. He swallows it back. “Once again, doctor, that’s why I’m here.”

The doctor seems unmoved by this.

“Do you plan to have children?”

“No,” says Dan, resolute and searing. “No I don’t.”

     Finally he’s released from the office, the first papers in hand, the portion of the summary he’s allowed to review. He washes sweat off his face in the small bathroom, mouth open, eyes shut.

Do not cry. They’ll hear you and it’ll give you away. Do not cry, you stupid bastard.

A good candidate, the doctor told him while closing the session. There was no joy in it. And why should there be? A good candidate. Congratulations. Unfortunately, you’re exactly as fucked as we’d like. The same statement is written on the paper folded in Dan’s pocket, where it smoulders hot against him.

It should be good news. For some reason he wants to tear it up, tear everything up, tear these useless clothes to rags, pull his hair out, kick the sink from the wall, and punch in the tile until the ground is landmines of sharp glass and ceramic.

Water drips down his nose, quietly hitting the bowl of the sink. He looks into the mirror for a long second. Dark ichor eyes diluted by fatigue.

He secures the next appointment with the receptionist. There are a couple other people in the waiting room, people like him, he assumes, and for this reason he keeps his line of sight as tight to himself as he does his arms, legs, reining himself in. You don’t dare recognise yourself in these people. Don’t let them see themselves in you.

Ms. D████a Rallis                              1969

20 year old patient reports profound gender dysphoria, convinced she is a male trapped in a female body. Reports early onset feelings of gender dysphoria, pre-puberty, and inclinations toward tomboyishness and transvestism which have persisted into adulthood. Inclined toward sports and athleticism.

Hates her body. Divorced from her own genitals in sexual relationships, indicated her genitals are “off-limits.” Romantic feelings for women. Wants to have sexual relationships with women as a male. She refuses to consider possibility of being a lesbian.

Patient is vague and evasive when discussing possibility of abuse. Does not believe psychotherapy would cure her condition; on this point we more or less agree but she is amenable to future sessions. Possible borderline personality structures.

Strong candidate for sex-change operations. Has begun receiving androgen injections. Blood collected for future genetic analysis.


“Was your father really so absent?” asks Enver.

“Oh, no,” Dan replies with a tone to imply this would be a grave miscalculation. “My father was a loving man. And I was his eldest child. He let me do anything I wanted.”

“Ah… so him being distant, this was  a lie? To advance the medicine more quickly?”

Dan smiles.

He must miss the next things Enver  says because suddenly Enver is next to him, the hand that clasps Dan’s shoulder pulling him out of the blue-black high tide that is the past.


“Hm? No, it’s nothing. What did you say, Enver? What were we talking about?"

“We don’t need to talk more—”

“Right, right. My father. And my lies.”

One hand on top of the other, squeezing the heel and working into the wrist. He looks down into his lap, guilt closing his throat.

“I need you to understand,” says Dan, speaking directly to the night now, "my father loved me very much.”

“I don’t doubt you at all," Enver says with a sincerity that hits Dan like acid rain. “It must have taken someone out of the ordinary to raise a son like you. But if he was good, then surely you must be better. As is every father’s hope.”

Only Dan’s eyes wince, blinking.

        “The worst lie I ever told, to the psychologist, was about him. I should never have done it. But it’s what they wanted to hear, and what they had the power to give me, I wanted it so bad it was like a fire roaring through me. I don’t believe that justifies it… only explains it.”

        “We lie to survive,” Enver says with care, like it’s a reminder, like it’s something not that Dan should know, but something Enver thinks Dan already knows. In a way, he does.


        In the doctor’s office Dan holds his head in his hands, eyes shut tightly. He’s forcing himself to do this but in a surprising twist, it doesn’t take much force at all. He drags his hands back over his temples to hold his neck, puffing his cheeks, then exhaling.

        “Whatever you say won’t surprise me, D████a,” says the doctor, in a way that may well intend to be comforting. “We’re finding a high percentage of female transsexuals report occurrences of abuse in their early childhoods. Actually, most of them report it. From speaking to other doctors, I’d even venture to say all. It seems almost… a necessary ingredient, if that makes sense.”

        Dan bristles hotly.

If only he could conduct the lightning threading through him and ignite the room. If only words might strike his sharpest flint edges.

Instead he stares patterns into the wood grain. He’s already fucked up by reacting at all. Now he has to repurpose it. Turn that into something useful.

He leans up sharply and makes unbroken eye contact with the doctor.

“I’m an adult,” he says. “So you don’t need to confer with my mother. Right?”

“Not unless you think her input might contribute to your treatment.”

“No,” Dan says, low. He has to pull himself together now, quickly.

“No,” he continues, “she has nothing of value to say. She can see it all playing out before her but she pretends not to. And at the same time, benefits, begrudgingly.”

“Benefits from…?”

“A new man in the house. With my father gone, someone else needs to help out, bring in money, share the load like that. If I were more of a woman, she might not let me do these things. She’d be concerned with me finding a husband, starting my own family. I think she understands I’m not going to do that, at least understands enough not to nag me about it.”

It makes him crazy, talking about his mother this way. The shadowy intersections where truth and lie meet, where he can disparage her in ways he would never dream of otherwise. Disrespectful, toward everything she’s been and done for him.

He can’t hide the disgust in his voice, directed toward himself and the apparent ease with which he can paint the picture. And it isn’t even a good distraction from the topic. The disgust in his voice suits what the doctor wants to hear.

“So you’ve taken your father’s place.”

“No,” Dan says firmly. “No one could.”

“You don’t find some satisfaction in taking over his role?”

“No,” Dan repeats.

“You said your mother begrudgingly accepts your masculine characteristics. Do you think she resents you for not being the kind of man your father was?”

“Why the fuck would she?”

The doctor pauses.

“I’m sorry. How  the fuck could she?” Dan burns, “To her I’m— I may be her new husband, but to be anything other than her daughter… she won’t allow it.”

Dan’s not looked away even once.


“Daniel,” Dan fires back. “You can call me Daniel. You can even call me Mr. Rallis. Isn’t that why we’re here? Why put it off?”

“Until you change your name, I’m going to call  you what it says on your paperwork.”

Dan is incensed.

“I can’t change my goddamned name until I pass your goddamned test,” he growls, fuming and not hiding it. For this to be where he ends up— after trying to recycle his anger into something productive, trying to fasten every word in place, in the right order, he thought he figured it out, he thought the puzzle was clear in front of him and only waiting for him to put the pieces where they belong.

“You’re very upset,” notes the doctor.

“No I’m not. I just— What the hell are you waiting for?” Dan asks, forlorn but not realising it. “What do you want me to say?”

“Well, above all, I’d like you to be honest with me.”

“I have been,” Dan insists hopelessly.

“I believe you. I’m not trying to paint you as dishonest, D████a.” The doctor crosses his legs, and sighs. “You’ve talked very glowingly about your father.”

“Yes. Of course.”

“But that’s all.”

Dan must look confused because the doctor goes on.

“We’ve spoken in great detail about your tenuous relationship to your mother, the gulf between you and your sisters… Where you fall in that, how you play off of them. How you’re the eldest, how you look after them, especially following your father’s death, and how, perhaps, with more men in your life, you would instead be content as a woman, but as it is, you’ve become the man in their  lives. You conceptualise yourself as the man of the house, correct?”

“ … Yes.” Sure.

“And I would assume you find it very gratifying to be  the sole male, as it were, among women— even if they are your family. Maybe that’s a key component here.”

“I don’t… um… I don’t…” he doesn’t like that word there, gratifying , he doesn’t know what he said for it to be put there. Dan feels sick.

“But I am bringing all this up, D████a, because I want to know: in comparison, was your relationship to your father… simple? Uncomplicated?”

Dan blinks.

“When female transsexuals discuss their fathers, there is a kind of infatuation, even in the presence of abuse. An idolising  of what it means to be a father. For instance, his virility, his power… more often than not, the father is the first male a daughter recognises as such. A person beyond herself— and far more recognisably male than a boy of her own age— on whom an understanding of the male sex is based. Would you agree?”

Dan’s throat is stuck, dry. Delayed, he coughs.

“Yeah… Sure, yes.”

“You hold your father in high esteem. But why?”

Dan is still raspy,

“He was a good person.”

The doctor taps his pen back and forth against his papers and his chest. This is not what Dan wants to see at all. Any break in momentum and it feels like the earth is about to spin off its axis.

“May I use the bathroom?” asks Dan. “I won’t be long.”

Dan could rend the stall door from its hinges and wouldn’t feel a thing about it only because it wouldn’t be enough. A black rage blooms like an oil spill in his head. He’s back in the mirror once more, casting a mean, dead look at his reflection. Gripping the sides of the sink. He really could do it this time. Sever the pipes from the wall. Beat this fucking pervert-spectator doctor to death with one. His heart batters his chest relentlessly. Acid hits the back of his throat and he spits it into the sink.

This is a game where even if he wins, he loses. So what does it matter if he lies on the way to the finish line if the lie is what the doctor wants to hear?

About his father. About his father. About his father. What to say… What thing will prove his child is broken in a way that can and must be fixed by modern medicine? It’s humiliating. Lucky for him that he’s dead in the ground and not here to fret. Dan’s wondered so many times, what would he think, if he saw his invert daughter— son, God damn it— playing deviant dress-up in this hospital, throwing out the name she was born with and insisting on being called Daniel , and each time she’s asked, swearing on record that she’d rather die by suicide than give birth to the next Rallis. Willingly, willfully letting the family die.

Oh! He’d blame himself, remembers Dan.

He contemplates the logistics of drowning in the sink.


Moonlight pales the mountainside.

In their tent, Enver cups Dan’s cheek in his hand, lying beside him on his bedroll. Privacy is rare now that he’s joined the organisation, something to which Dan thought would take him more time to become accustomed, but when he does have the space to breathe it feels unnatural in its vulnerability. Nour is back at the camp, and the two men are deeper, higher into the mountains waiting for the supply truck to make its stop the following morning.

“You and Nour are friends,” Dan observes. “How do you… do that with her? She’s got those capricious catlike mannerisms…”

“I give her space, I give her time. Feeding her does help,” says Enver, calmly, finishing with some self-deprecating satisfaction, like Nour only comes to him for her supper— which he might believe is true, and even if it were, he’s still glad for it.

The way he’s able to look at Dan, with something resembling love and care, is halfway unsettling in how easy it seems for him, but at the same time lights up a dark part of Dan’s brain such that he can’t get enough, he has to see it. He hopes he can before Enver catches wise and no longer shares it with him.

“Was she afraid of you?” Dan asks.

“Perhaps. No, I’m sure. It’s sometimes hard to tell with her… She insists on that barrier.”

Enver uses his other hand to pull the wool blanket over his legs.

“But I think she doesn’t know when she’s afraid. I think that’s probably served her very well in life.”

Dan helps him with the blanket.

“Seeing as she is alive, praise God,” Enver really emphasises this.

“How is she with the other men?”

“Well, you know,” Enver laughs lightly.

“How are they with her?”

“Respectful, now. Despite her being so… hard-edged. They respect her now that they know her. Children—” Enver looks at Dan meaningfully, “which is what she is, a child—”

Dan nods for Enver to go on.

“Children are the most important in the world, to the world. It’s the world’s charge to keep them safe and raise them. There’s no alternative. They’re ours, all of them, and we are theirs.”

Dan seeks Enver’s face, wants  to know what he looks like when he says this. This is something they say in America but they don’t mean it. And on base, if something like this is uttered, the implication is so grotesque that it may as well be a joke. So what does someone look like when they mean it, guide their life by it?

No lanterns, the light above is strong enough tonight not to need them as they prepare, slowly, for sleep. Enver sits up, only slightly, keeping his arm out for Dan, and removes his earrings— two small moons catching the milky glow.

He speaks again before lying back down.

“A world that doesn’t care for its children is a Hell, dead.”

Enver though becomes a little self-conscious about his passion, and slowly blinks while looking away for a moment. But he needs to go on.

“This doesn’t change, even in war. In fact, war perfects it.”

Perfects it ,” Dan repeats, curious.

“War is…” Enver searches for words in their shared language. “War is the worst part of us. It shows us who we’re willing to sacrifice. Children must be saved. Never sacrificed.”

While he’s up, Enver fishes for one of Dan’s cigarettes. Dan finds a lighter in his pocket and sparks it for him. An orange glow, then back to soft and cold purple-grey, and the small red star when Enver inhales.

“You don’t have children, do you? Am I remembering that right?”

“That’s right,” Enver says.

“Why?” Dan asks.

Enver laughs.

“First I felt I was too young, and I was too stubborn to go looking for a wife. Then my uncle was killed, as you know… after that, I guess I thought about my future differently. And now I’m here.” He was smiling, but now he isn’t. “Some bring their children into this. Some have had children while engaged in operations. I don’t think less of them… the fight takes us many places. But I will not do it. Maybe when the base is destroyed, eh, Danya?” he suddenly asks, leaning his head into his own shoulder to grin at Dan, smoke curling from his mouth. He coughs. And tilts his chin toward the small open flap.

“The circumstances are challenging… Nour has a job to do like the rest of us. But I hardly think I’m the only one in the group who wants to protect her and the others in our youth units.” Enver blows smoke out of the tent’s small window. “To do otherwise goes against our cause, and our hearts.”

Dan is stirred. Eyes wet before he notices. He reaches out and holds the back of Enver’s head, smiling at him. Enver gazes down at him, easy, but the touch is still new, and a shade of fear passes through him before it’s gone again.

“That’s very beautiful, Enver,” Dan smiles shakily.

“The girl doesn’t appreciate it nearly as much as you do,” Enver sighs back, with the hint of a grin creasing his eyes.


“Am I allowed to smoke in here?” Dan asks when he shuts the door to the private office behind him.

“If you’d like. There’s an ashtray on my desk, feel free to use it.”

Dan picks up the granite ashtray. Briefly entertains the idea of smashing it through the window, but the last of his energy vacates him as the fantasy dissipates, so he decides to use it for its intended purpose instead.

He takes his place back on the couch. He can feel solid and secure now that he has a plan.

“My father presented me with infallibility. He could do no wrong, or, he gracefully evaded wrongdoing. Grace… that’s a good word,” Dan hangs onto it. He resumes then,

“Of course I idolised him. In most circumstances, he seemed immaculate.”

“These are strong sentiments,” marvels the doctor.

“Yes,” Dan agrees wholeheartedly, “I wanted to be… just like him.”

Dan looks to the side, toward the large set of windows on the left hand wall. He runs his tongue over his bottom lip and then bites it, lets it go.

“So— So when he… well he ended up throwing all of his admirable qualities into question, not like I understood that, but looking back I was pretty unsettled, trying to square who he was with what he did.”

“And what was that?” asks the doctor, pen on paper again, peering curiously at Dan as if through the bars of a cage.

Dan puts on the sad smile he practiced and hangs his head. Instead of the game playing him, it finally feels like he’s playing the game. He now knows what this creep wants to hear and he’ll deliver it beautifully. He’ll do anything to become.

“If you need tissues, they’re on the side table.”

Dan lights a cigarette. He lets himself lean deeply into the couch, neck propped up against the back of it.

“He favoured  me. He made time for me… for discourse, theory, critique. It excited him, and I was interested, and plus, I wanted to delight him. I wanted him to know I was interested in him, his thoughts. For whatever reason, I could get away with anything, so long as he was the one permitting it.”

Smoke trails out through his teeth, smiling thoughtfully.

“I don’t know what he found so wonderful about me. But I was desperate not to lose it.”

“How so?”

Dan gazes at the ceiling.

“It was enough to have his attention. That was a reward. It became more rare. When things were rough, he was scattered. It was hard to put him back together.”

“Was that your duty also? To care for your father? Put him back together?”

“I guess it was, in a way,” Dan has to laugh at this, with some mock surprise.

“There was very little I could do. Please, remember, my father— he loved us all. He was smart. Sharp. And he shared that with us. He wanted to bring that out in his daughters, too.”

“D████a, you don’t have to keep convincing me of your father’s character. Is there a reason you feel the need to keep reminding me?”

Dan laughs bitterly. He lolls his head upright, and smiles wide, eyes partially disappearing behind his lifted cheeks. Then he takes a draw from his cigarette.

“You said all your boys come in complaining of the same shit.”

The doctor is perplexed by this but Dan is alive with it. Smooth and calm like the surface of a natural spring, like menthol in the back of his throat.

“But I didn’t hold it against him, you know.”

“What are we talking about, D████a?”

“Didn’t I say?” Dan asks.

“No,” answers the doctor, eyebrows furrowed with some worry— more worry, less compassion. It’s a terrible expression.

At this, Dan steadies himself. He tips the cigarette toward the tray to ash it and then takes another long draw from it, the smoke curling in the air like milk in water. He exhales it through his nose.

“He lost himself,” Dan tries. He stifles some of his smile. “He… I don’t know why he did it.”

“Do you think if you had been a natal male, your father might not have abused you?”

He’s the breakwater and the question crashes over him. Dan laughs again, this time harshly.

“I’d like to stop playing around and hear what really happened,” orders the doctor.

 Dan’s eyes are on him, an animal betrayed. Emboldened by anger and starving for the meat the doctor holds above his head, toying with him, letting him go hungry on purpose unless he performs the right trick in the right order.

From the top of his head to his feet, he empties himself to cool again. Remember, you are here to lie. Make it a good one.

“You got me,” he hisses, but then speaks at a normal volume again, letting himself sound helpless. Playing pretend.

“What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to believe, as I try, against these odds, to go on living my only life— that my father was evil? That he cared so little for me, the thought that he might derail and upend whoever it was I was supposed to be, that thought never occurred to him? If those were the thoughts I was stuck with, I doubt I would’ve made it to your office. I doubt I would’ve made it down the block.”

“It’s understandable you would craft a more perfect image in order to cope with what had been done to you. Surely you don’t think that can last forever though, do you?”

“No. You’re right,” Dan agrees. He allows himself to sniffle a little, a first for their sessions. It’s obvious that the doctor sees this as a breakthrough. He seems so titillated, Dan thinks, proudly and derisively.

“I was jealous of who the world permitted him to be, made space for him to be… whereas I was weak, and he proved that over and over again. This is what it means to be a girl, I guess, that was my teacher’s lesson. It means paralysing, obsessive trepidation. It means waiting in my bed at night expecting the worst but not knowing if or when it’ll come— and not just my bed, but my favourite places, my favourite things, mundane but sentimental, turned dark and nauseating. Going through the day in a haze, with everything and everyone unrecognisable through that haze. You must suffer and suffer sweetly to keep your family from falling apart. It means your body is not your own, it’s shared property, between your family and the world, but never you. Your body is the solder that fills in the cracks. The longer it went on, the less of a divide I saw— between my father’s weak-willed torment, my mother ignoring it, my sisters who were spared of it. I was least recognisable to myself.”

Dan is shaky, arms resting on his thighs. Hand with the cigarette palm up, loose.

“I didn’t believe in God, because I believed in my father. And he couldn’t help himself, so I knew no one could help me.”

He stays calm but every sentence he speaks comes out like he’s goading the doctor, testing him, adding more weight.

“Yes, he changed me. He revealed the structures to me. The man I loved most, more than myself, sought to hurt me again,” he says, “and again,” he says, “and again,” he says. “He made sure I could never forget it.”

Try as he may, Dan never does use the tissues.

“It only ended when he died.”


“So the lie…”

“Well I said he was pathetic. I said I feared him, that he repulsed me, but that he represented something I wanted more than anything, so I was at once almost…” Dan pauses, hating it viscerally. “... Envious, or even,” he chokes now, fist against his forehead, “amorous, for what he possessed without the slightest bit of effort. And if even some of it lingered on me from his touch, I might absorb it. I might become like him. And I wanted that,” Dan is incredulous, “I said, I admitted, to wanting that.”

Enver mulls this over.

“Mm...” He thinks he’s beginning to understand something, but isn’t sure if Dan himself does, so Enver avoids it for now. “Maybe my real question is, what was true?”

“Everything I said before. That he was good. That he loved me. That I loved him.”

“But, so, you don’t mean to say nothing happened... ?” Enver sounds alarmed, which isn’t what Dan expected at all. He thought normally someone takes the easy way out when it’s presented.

When describing the past, from where does one begin? Without a stopwatch, what is the start? To anything? Does a memory have a start or end? Is a memory just time possessed, altered like a dream? Consider the way one person and all that they do wells up inside another, cresting, cascading. Is death an end? An end of what? For whom? We walk in and out of each other and we always will. There is no going back. So choose: This is either time itself, or it’s a story.

A story can start and stop, and begin again, at any point, and differently.

Time has already begun, and what you take you must be willing to carry forever.


Her father is lost.

Dan is 10 years old, taller than her young sisters (Savoula’s only a baby anyway) and a good portion of her classmates, a girl too tall for her own good. Men don’t want a girl that makes them feel small. She’ll be shorter than her father for a few years yet, a few years spent wondering when finally she’ll surpass him. It delights her, as a fantasy, but it’s just a fantasy. He can still pick her up, and secretly she doesn’t mind, because he can do this without making her feel too young. So she won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t come true.

History is where Savvas walks most confidently, as though his heart is divided between the precious present and a timeline foreign and impenetrable to Dan. The thing about history is it’s made every minute, every single second frittered away. So the trouble of walking with history, it would seem, is the near-constant exposure to pain. Friends not seen in ages are killed during the Relentless Struggle and the fight that resides in Dan’s father, a trait she didn’t know was remarkable until it was gone, that fight dies too, or he dies in it. He is bent over the papers, crooked and despondent. It yokes and leads her proud father down into a period of darkness where the grief of all time bleeds together in one wound, haemorrhaging.

The deaths of Savvas’ parents decades earlier are anchors caught on reef, dragging him submerged along the murky ocean bed. Much of this time is remembered only as a photo half-developed. No matter how often Dan dips into it, the chemical processing recovers only so much, and the rest of it is the warm blackness of the negative. Nothing there because nothing was ever saved there to begin with.

During this period Dan tries to reach his father as he always does, but it’s as though Savvas is hearing words for the first time, unable to string them together. The things he says are no response to the things his daughter tries prompting him with. Slinging her arms around his neck, trying in some way to force him to come up for air, forcing herself to laugh as she tries to trick him into playing.

Even her mother can’t find him. Dan isn’t sure how long this lasted, it feels like one day and it feels like ten years. And after a certain point that disorientation and blinding crystal-clarity is all there is.

“There’s no going home— a place razed to the ground and piled with bodies is a grave, not a home, and not a country.” There was a plan and a party and a hope that the future might be built with common tools but the fascists mow everything down, death is their currency, the country drawn and quartered, his ancestors and relatives driven to the shore and into boats and into undignified graves, nameless.

It’s not a memory Dan shares, but by living alongside it, he can watch his father sink into its quicksand, get caught bleeding on its razorwire. And if Dan pays close enough attention, it flickers almost visible, like a mirage, but it fades, obscured by his age and the secrets that language keeps from him. His mother tells his father again and again that the children are too young to hear this. We are here in America, Savvy, what can you do? There is pride and there is selfishness, and it would be selfish to drag them in and drown them. It is too big and shapeless. It is a muddy rut his father slips into on his knees where he does not pray.

Dan remembers Savvas walking with his arms folded behind his back, looking up at the sky as though he’s never seen it, or has discovered some new shade of blue, and only has to name it. Dan can do nothing but watch him with a curiosity disquieted by dread.

When he comes back drunk, but not too drunk, he finds Dan playing at the clear shores of the fountainhead where the cold water bubbles up and begins the river. In greeting her in his softened way, her father, even with his wisdom softened too, keeps the bottle in the car. Dan wouldn’t come to him if she saw him with it. In the same way he approaches everything at this time, he approaches Dan as though he’s never seen her before. She ignores the unpractised nervousness in her stomach. The day is getting late, and she doesn’t want to walk home from the wooded park. Her father needs her now, her trusted company. His eyes glassy, but dull.

Waiting with his gnarled hand outstretched, standing between the shallow banks of manmade dunes, he invites Dan to come home with him— absent of smile . D████a is apprehensive, but she is, after all, 10 years old.

As they walk back to the car, papa lets that faraway look take him somewhere, perhaps drawing him to where it originates— a place without a road, so the family car, that bulky blue station wagon with the long leather seats, stays where it is.

D████a sits beside him in the dimming light. The leather sticks uncomfortably to her legs. She didn’t bring a towel, and the sun dried her off, but now she wishes she had one. She picks over the car for reasons to be distracted. Most distracting is the unbearable sadness on her father’s face. Captivates her, wrenches her in a way she’s still too young to endure all at once. Each facet catches her attention in intervals, and instead of crying she thinks about whether or not she’s supposed to, if he isn’t.

Finally she asks,

“Papa, can we go?”

D████a searches  him for a reply but he, bewitched, says nothing. So she says nothing after that.

Her father is suddenly holding her. She’s jarred abruptly out of her thoughts. He isn’t speaking, at least not that she can hear. On him she can smell the bottles he hid in the footwell but beneath that is all the same scents she’s familiar with. She lets him hold her, but when she tries to fit her own arms around him, he doesn’t move to accommodate. So she wraps her arms around his neck, and finds her own face reflected in the window.

Savvas spends the rest of his life repenting with sincerity matched only by how diagonal and ineffectual it is, so much so that it drives Dan out of his mind like the sun magnified through a glass, boring a small, precise hole through him.

 She is stuck in his embrace and then his embrace changes. His hands travel her. She’s not familiar with what they do, not really. No one told her that fathers in their infinite power and wisdom might use it in this way, that their boundless love encompasses this, too.

     When the sun slips away it’s almost impossible to see anyone’s in the car at all. And D████a wouldn’t know what to do if they were seen— maybe that would be worse. Whether her mother, a complete stranger, a police officer, a priest, an audience to this— anyone knowing— would be worse, no matter what occurred after, no matter what recourse Dan might occasionally entertain in his own head he inevitably decides every time without fail that anyone knowing about it would be worse than it happening at all. “It” “happening.”

Their body heat and her father’s breath fog up the rear window. D████a isn’t sure she’s breathed at all, not once this whole time, however long it’s been. She’s surprised at how few questions she has. Normally she’s full of them unbidden.

She sighs. Stares back at herself in the side window. Remaining quiet when it stings. Grateful it’s only her here to watch, her here for company. She’s weightless, suspended in waiting, waiting for when it’s over, waiting to know when it started, or if it’s still yet to start. Goosebumped. Belly bare. Time is slippery, and traitorous. Her hair’s getting too long again.

Gasping like a fish thrown back into the water, her father finally releases her. He pulls her shirt into place gracelessly, hastily. And when she’s covered properly, when it’s stopped hurting, she’s stunned to find he’s still sad! In a way, when the shroud of grief is unmoved, him unchanged, D████a is disappointed. Not even this? This peculiar act, seemingly so vital, so fragile that it must be done so alone, kept so hidden, a space reserved for just the two of them— and like all time shared together, surely prized, cherished, like a gift to him— wasn’t enough to make him happy. He is still heavier than stone, wordless, clumsy, and defeated.

They sit side by side, each dejected.

Her father faces outward.

“This was... Chryso mou, I am sorry,” he murmurs, dispirited. The words tremble out of him in zig-zagging formation. “I made a mistake.”

“What?” Dan asks, dazed. What mistake? Which part?

This is something Savvas can’t answer.

“It— it—” Savvas is louder, but, “it won’t happen again,” he mumbles.


Dan doesn’t remember going from there to home, but they do go home, because he remembers the headlights on the side of their little house. No words exchanged between him and his father for the rest of the night. His mother welcomes them into the warm light, relieved that they spent time together— Savvy’s been so withdrawn, you know. Dan gives his mother a stilted, lightheaded hug and then watches her try to engage his father as the man shuffles by. When they kiss each other, his father needs prompting to do it, causing his mother to scold him, jokingly, throwing a silly face over her shoulder to Dan. Dan has to look away. His stomach hurts.

He climbs the short stairs to bed. Like in a dream, his legs are concrete. He is 9, 10, 11, 12, and one of the things he learned is the Earth’s rotation is too fast to perceive but he thinks he can feel each of those thousands of miles and seconds hurtling by and gravity keeps him just slow enough to be left behind.

His little sisters are already asleep, Eleni turning over onto her side, leg kicked out from under the blanket. Dan covers her up again as he passes, grabbing the blanket in fistfuls. His movements imprecise, but automatic.

He stands in front of his own bed for a minute. Maybe more than a minute. Holding the hem of his shirt in both hands. Through a numbness, the idea of taking his shirt off makes his stomach cramp up instantly. So he climbs under the blanket and the sheet and fades into sleep with his clothes still on.

They stay on the next day, too, when his mother wakes him up, jostling him a little. His father isn’t home, out again, lord knows where. Dan pretends to shower. Wets his hair in the bathroom sink. It feels not dissimilar to a lie. But it’s only a lie if he has to say it, right?

“Didn’t you wear that yesterday, D████a?”

“No,” he says, drifting into the kitchen, “it was different.”


It’s not the same water. It’s not even the same car.

After the appointment, Dan emerges in the parking lot holding the folded summary in his right hand. He made sure to park where the car would get the most shade so the seats wouldn’t boil his skin off. Forethought he’ll wish he neglected. Crosses the pavement to the streetside parking under a row of trees. Hands shaking, and not letting go of the papers, he fumbles with the keys. It’s almost enough to upset the methodical procedure.

But he drives, and he drives until he gets to Sandy Point, mostly empty, driftwood strewn across the sand and unkempt seagrass rippling along the wooden fence.

Dan throws the car door open and spins in his seat, planting his feet on the ground and doubling over himself, mouth open and breathing hard. Hands on his temples. He drove the whole way with his paperwork clenched against the steering wheel, so with it now near his face he catches sight of the words on the crumpling page and clenches his teeth. Snarling, he tosses the letters behind him, strewing them across the floor. Well he can’t go kill himself now that he’s got this, right? That’s so fucking annoying.

        He pulls a cigarette out of his pocket and then a matchbook from inside the door, with the same fury as all his other actions. The wind wastes two of his matchsticks and he hunches over even more, protecting it. Everything is laden heavy with meaning, excruciating, like stepping into the light after prolonged darkness. The sun hits everyone the same, you  just aren’t used to it.

         Cigarette between his lips, he stretches his shoulders back and takes off his jacket, hurling it away, and unbuttons his shirt, takes that off too, piling the clothes behind him. The sea breeze is crisp, cutting the heat. But that’s not what he wants, not now. God, every inch of him loathes the way this leather adheres to skin. He loathes it so much so, in just his undershirt now, he leans his naked shoulders and neck hard into the curve of the driver’s seat, desperate to remember that awful squeaking stickiness that dizzies him and makes him feel years younger, makes each year roll back around him, breakneck and vertigo-inducing. Chest rising and falling pronouncedly with each haggard breath. He’s able to pause long enough to take an unsteady drag, then rests that hand on the steering wheel, cigarette burning away between his fingers. His left arm slung over the top of the seat, that hand covers his face. Fingers pressing meanly into skin, pushing his glasses up over his forehead.

He chokes it back. But this time he knows it’s going to happen, and finally, turning inward to his palm, his face contorts into a cracking sob. Violent like a storm squalling out of him thick and rough. Blocking the sun. It’s not the same water. It’s not even the same car. You can change your clothes and you can change your name but you still sound like a girl when you cry.


        Dan’s hair is longer than it’s ever been, swept messy over his shoulders. He runs one gloved hand through it, pushing loose strands behind his ear. He’s shirtless under his open coat, sitting in the passenger seat of the truck. They drove up to watch a nomadic flock on its way to winterage. Enver is beside him, halfway in the driver’s seat, half out of the door.

        “I wasn’t a girl when he did it,” Dan says. “He may have done it to a girl, but that girl wasn’t me. I knew before…” Dan smiles serenely, content with that fact. It’s a small ember. No less of a light in the dark.

        He lets the smile drop, serious again.

        “But the doctors all wanted to hear that his abuse altered me. The conceit being: women live in fear, so if she doesn't succumb to it, the man she is must be born of fear. Must be an escape from fear. If that were true, it never moves the doctors, the hospital, to address what causes the fear. It was imperative that transsexualism be a symptom of a crime so damaging that the only viable treatment for the disorder was a sex change.”

        He peers out the window, looking and listening for errant goats. Then over to Enver.

        “I don’t know if you can understand that. I won’t be hurt if you don’t.”

        “I can through you,” Enver says, shrugging gently. “Truthfully I don’t think I would have, otherwise.”

        “I wouldn’t’ve either,” Dan admits. “I had no one else. Some of that’s my own fault, but…” His voice dies out, neck twisted to look over his shoulder. Staying there, he murmurs thoughtfully,

“ … I suddenly have cause to think about it again.”

        “It hurts you to witness him,” wonders Enver.


        “Yes,” says Dan. “And I think it should.”

Above them and the ashen fingers of the mountains, their inkstained sky is flecked with stars. Few lights out here, some below in the valley, ghosts of swinging lanterns and flashlights a safe distance away. The cities, glowing yellow, can be reached from every direction, but here, it’s as if the earth were made to remind man of his size, small in the only world he has, scarcely larger than the animals he keeps, and without union with the land, even the cold and treacherous parts, he has and is nothing.

To the west, the Black Sea laps at the ankles of Dan’s family. He never saw it before coming to the Republic. He still hasn’t seen it, not properly. And Enver’s family, the Caspian, which he has also never visited. Their missions have taken them through the high desert and vining forests almost tropical in appearance, but not yet down to the water.

He wonders if Jack would like to see it. Can he swim? He must be able to by now, surely as part of physical training they would’ve taught him. If not, Dan could… Then, with that thought, he hopes they didn’t teach him. Dan will never forget how to swim. It’s been a long time.

        “If you can believe it,” Dan says, expecting Enver not to, “it wasn’t the rape that bothered me most.”

Dan grins with one side of his mouth, pulled back, canine displayed. He really doesn’t mean to pause here, but saying it out loud briefly takes his breath away.

“It was everything after. I don’t have a word for it. Misery, maybe… no. I don’t know.” Dan shakes his head. “Whatever word conveys what the hot iron must feel like to cattle.”

He recalls the light in the garden, the white-green hydrangeas along the fence. His father standing beside him, speaking softly, soft as grass, soft as down, soft as the air when there’s no barrier between it and your body, temperature turning everything to silk in its sameness.

“It was like— it was like it was happening all over again, every single time. He’d talk to me about it, you know… Continually asked for my forgiveness. Promised he was trying to repent. Begged me to love him. But,” he pauses, inhaling, “that was the problem. I already loved him.”

        A long look is exchanged between the two men, eyes doing what hearts can’t. Without breaking eye contact, Dan’s expression shifts, just slightly, to a muted fury.

        “So I wanted him to shut the fuck up about it.”

“He was salting the wound,” comments Enver, also not breaking away. “Doing it for himself, not you.”

“I was trying to get over it. That’s what I was supposed to do. And he wouldn’t let me. He refused to get over it. I grew older and angrier. He just would not let it go. Wouldn’t let me go.”

Dan’s eyes are still mostly on him, eyebrows knit together, but now he looks through Enver.

“How do you explain that to a doctor who himself has the power and will to violate you? They wanted more and more and more. They wanted to watch me cry. They wanted me to attest to—” but Dan can’t bring himself there. He smacks his arm loud against the top of the door. Eyes blazing in the sideview mirror.

“Wanting it,” Enver fills in, his voice tight. “At least wanting to live in the shadow of what made you who you are.”

Dan’s face calms just a little. Here, Enver slips out of the truck. As he does it, Dan hates it very much, mortified, until Enver is near him. Dan relents and moves for Enver to open the door. Dan shifts to face him, but his eyes are cast down on the rocky ground, its scraggly bushes and the stones of an old, old house foundation, or toppled monastery, just beyond the truck tires, where Enver was careful not to park.

Enver raises his hand conspicuously so that Dan can’t miss it, before he places it on Dan’s thigh.

“That is not what made you who you are.”

“It isn’t not what made me who I am.”

Enver is very serious now. He opens his mouth, and then speaks louder,

“The terrible lie you told was about yourself, Daniel.”

Dan moves to refute this but Enver lifts another hand, grabbing the edge of Dan’s seat, leaning in.

“That’s why it was so terrible. But you did it so you could escape.”

Dan laughs quietly.

“Did I?” His voice is thick but whispery.

Enver’s chest tightens, aching for him. He grips Dan’s thigh without meaning to, wringing a gasping cry out of Dan from the sudden firmness.

“No, no,” Enver says desperately, taking his hand away, frantic. He backs off of Dan, but at the same time Dan slides down, boots steadying on the ground and he pulls Enver to him by the collar of the man’s uniform. They hold each other, hard, leaning against the cold bed of the old Moskvitch pickup.

“We should get in,” whispers Enver.

“I don’t want to,” breathes Dan. Enver has the sense to protest, but he doesn’t use it. He studies Dan’s face, careful not to overlook any detail. His funerary eyes, sleek brushstroke eyebrows, the pull of his lips. Trusting him sufficiently, Enver lifts up his hands and takes off Dan’s glasses, gingerly folding them and placing them inside on the seat. While he leans away, Dan watches for any of their comrades and removes his gloves, tucking them into his pockets. For now they are alone. Dan takes out Enver’s earrings for him, lips puckered in one more self-effacing smile. He holds them in his palms, meaning to pass them off to the man, but Enver is quickly too busy using both of his hands to bring Dan’s face to his and kiss him.

Each man has his own scars, equally numerous, arranged differently. As Dan unzips his jacket with his back to Enver, Enver pushes his hands up under it, and kisses down Dan’s  spine, arms wrapping around his waist, sweating against him. It’s enough just to be held, skin and hair and skin and hair. Warm and wanted, shared equally between them. Dan hisses between his teeth when Enver’s fingers splay around his chest, under the curve of his carpeted breasts to follow the ridgecrests of old scar tissue. Stars are born and die explosively in Dan’s brain.

“Is that alright, Danya?” Enver asks in his ear. Dan chokes out a whine, panting.


After the surgeon’s cartographing, only his own hands have been there. Not Chris, nor any lovers before her. If they even tried, even wanted to, he would’ve smacked them away.

When he pulls off the top of Enver’s jumpsuit and attacks the buttons of his shirt underneath, Enver flushes self-conscious, teeth clenched when Dan’s fingers run up his sides and belly to his chest and spreads his palms there, letting awe guide his hands over Enver’s densely-packed fat and muscle. Enver swallows hard, sweat beading on his forehead, releasing his jaw to exhale. It’s only fair, and he means to be fair. He notes this doesn’t feel like a woman’s touch, and not because of Dan’s calloused hands, or their size, there is something else, something that if universal does not get spoken of where Enver’s been to hear it, and so this is wholly foreign to him— in the sense that it is familiar, Dan makes him familiar to himself.

Dan grips Enver’s shoulders, fingers working into his trapezius, and Enver shudders. Leveraging this, Dan pulls himself up to sit, Enver kneeling upright in his lap. The face Enver makes is one he would never have recognised on himself before, a sleepy, open-mouthed thirst. Dan makes it worse.

“The way you look now is how I want you always,” Dan whispers into Enver’s mouth. “I didn’t know I could.” I didn't know laying with a man would make me more like him, not less. “But now I do.”

“Daniel.” Enver can do very little to express his shock as it jolts him.

Hearing his name, here, like this, in the dim dark, in a man’s voice, no, from Enver’s glistening mouth, it brings down upon Dan a cacoethes  unlike anything he felt before. He thought he had. He’s experienced something close to it as a sadness so consuming it takes him from his mind, from his family, like— so he believed— it took his father before him. A dark passageway through which one realises their worst possible selves, regardless of whether or not he ever became it on the way back out, he knew— or believed he knew— what that tunnel looked like. A dolorous hysteria, something to run from. But this is not that. He has never heard his name like this before. The surge of emotion is too intertwined to pull apart.

“Say it again.”

Daniel,” Enver does, without question.

“Fuck,” Dan bows his head, just below Enver’s chest where his hairy stomach starts to protrude. Dan grinds his forehead there for a second, then lifts his head back up. He doesn’t feel young, but he does feel new when asking,

“When I say this—” he pauses to demonstrate, “ — Enver — what does that feel like?”

Enver blinks his half-lidded eyes and looks around, like he was roused from a deep sleep.

“Eh,” he begins, mouth hanging open even wider as he thinks. “I can’t compare it to anything.”

“Try,” Dan requests.

“Okay,” Enver says. This time, he doesn’t have to think about it at all. “It feels… as though I was born to…  That my life was given to me so that I might live until this moment, and my name given to me so one day I’d hear you say it. Exactly like this, and no different.”

And he says this like it’s the most natural thing in the world even while he’s catching his breath.

They are the same. There is no danger. Dan’s black eyes are wide under his brow, and then simultaneously his gasp breaks into a grin, or maybe the other way around. Understanding that this is a positive reaction, Enver, rushed along by want, bends down and kisses Dan’s open mouth.


        “ … It was good that I left before I could see him grow up.”

Dan is stern, but the person he wants to say this to, in this way, is not here. Even if he wants to, he knows this is not the kind of thing a parent says to a child. Because if he says this, he must follow it with something else, and something else, and something else.

“When they gave the children guns, that’s when… it’s not when the mistrust began. The mistrust was seeded years before. But it did something to me, and if I let it persist, maybe I wouldn’t be able to recover. And if I couldn’t recover… What else would I fail to resist?”

Dan hangs his head to his chest suddenly, his mood not so much switching as enveloping.

“I hope to God I’ll never be cursed with a reason to tell him,” croaks Dan, hiding behind both forearms crossed in front of him. He grits his teeth, and looks to the side, at the far-off campfire.

“He’s perfect,” Dan implores. “He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And I may well be the disaster that formed him. He doesn’t deserve the small, enclosed life his mother— and I— forced on him. He deserves so much better. He deserves a world.”

“You can make his world bigger, Daniel. You alone can show him that.”

“But what if I… no. No.”

Dan trails off, he doesn’t dare finish, but looks at Enver pointedly,

“He shouldn’t have to go through the same tripwire traps. The idea of doctors pulling him apart— more than they already have!” Dan interrupts himself, hands flying from his head in a taut arc downward. He relaxes somewhat, a wild-eyed despair replacing his anger.

“I’m saying all this as though he’ll ever make it there,” he realises aloud, vacantly. “He never will.”

Enver grabs Dan’s shoulders to drag him out of that black hole.

“It is your duty, Daniel, your singular duty to save him from all torture. That includes the hateful world you escaped from.”

“I want to give him everything, Enver,” he says.

“Then start by letting him show you what he needs. He can only do that by knowing you.”

“I suddenly saw everything he would become, and it was worse than I could have imagined. Especially when Christine seemed… incapable, completely incapable of understanding that what we’d set out to do was the type of bottomless evil only a parent can commit. ”

The corridor is empty of an audience. It’s just him and Nour, and when he looks at her, he knows she’s crossed the threshold over which there’s no walking back.

“It would be better if you’d never known, too,” he tells her. “Better if you never told me about him.”

“Why?” she baulks. “Doesn’t it bring you closer?”

“I don’t want to BE closer!” he spits back. “We were never meant to both be alive, here, today. Least of all like this.”

Nour frowns, jaw jutting out, eyebrows furrowed.

“You break me in two, Daniel, and now you confess your life of atonement was an imposture. Because you and your son are, somehow, both alive— and after all that’s happened, you see that as an end, not a beginning?”

Her lip quivers.

He turns his back to her anyway.

“I thought my world was over. Then the one I tried to destroy rose up again.”

Dan lets his eyes water. It doesn’t matter now, so he doesn’t stop it .

“And he’s perfect,” Dan’s voice breaks in awe. “He’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And my only claim to him is I may well be the disaster that formed him.”

He turns around once more. The early morning sun, not yet breaching the fog, slowly bleaches the cliffside behind him.

“He’s come here forced to kill me. And I know. I know he should,” Dan says, to Nour’s horror. “But the world to which he belongs will reject him, too, when he finally fulfills his purpose. Even if he kills me. For me, for him, for us it ends the same.”

“So SAVE HIM!” Nour shouts.


        Daniel strokes Jack’s hair as the boy sleeps by him in a low bed, curled toward his father who’s sitting upright, legs crossed. His hands aren’t gentle or graceful enough not to tremble a little as he tucks the hair behind Jack’s ears. That’s the way Jack wears it now. The same unsteadiness as when he laid down in bed and curled an arm around the new baby for the very first time. In spite of years and Dan’s nervousness, petting his hair still lulls  him to sleep. Thank God for sparing even and only this.

        The rain beats down on the tin roof. Clean sheets, dry mattresses, climate control, armed guards, concrete walls, the confines of what could pass for perfect life. Traded in for a more pressing danger, one openly seen and discussed and lived, instead of pretended away. Dan adjusts the woven blanket over Jack, pulling it up to his neck. Was it worth it? There’s something Enver says often, especially to Nour— Tsavt tanem, I would take your pain, and make it mine.

        The world is wicked, infinitely so. Dan, too. But not his son.

        Daniel holds his jaw in the dip of his palm, looking at Jack from across the small room. Pressing down on his thigh out of habit but not will, Dan hopes that the bullet wound will bleed him out in time, quickly, before Jack wakes up. So that the last moment they share is spent in quiet wonder, so Jack never has to see regret in Dan’s face. A hope running deep, embedded in substratum like the cold flow of water from a spring.

        Where Dan once blackened the earth, he tried to make green again in ferns. Every bit of work and goodness cratered the second he saw the child he wrongly believed was his daughter grown undeniably into a son no one around him recognised, except for Dan, instantly and chillingly knowing, and in spite of that, cannot recognise him… Marksmen might pray they make a shot so clean.

        My greatest act of kindness is to die meaningless, being to him nothing other than what releases him from his post. For all his money this was a gift my own father couldn’t spare, and what he could, I’ve spent. So the light belongs to you, Jack. It always did. I split the earth open and buried my heart in stone.