The Mechanics of Fluid
His rotary heart. Clicking. He is sitting in an antique rocking chair on the white veranda, cup of ginger tea in hand, waiting. Methodic, ventricular contractions pump blood through his veins. He wonders if the abrupt, repetitive beats beneath his skin could somehow expedite her arrival—if only she could hear his pulse. His body is calling her. Crickets rub their wings together, echoing his heartbeat with an eerie, ticking chirp. Desire has such a predictable rhythm. He rocks.
The long dirt road running up to his cabin is crowded by wild orange trees. He imagines picking the plumpest oranges and serving them to her in the morning. What would her lips look like covered in pulp?
Time is dripping by. He paces, blood shunted from legs to brain, the central circuit of his wiring overloaded by nervous motion. The knotted pine planks of the porch creak as he walks back and forth. He goes inside to reheat his tea.
She pulls over on the shoulder after taking the ranch exit. The hour is late; she is weary. She shuts the vehicle off and leans back in her seat. What is she doing? So many distances have already been covered. The city, the road, the sky, the body and its various forms. Can she rally her spirit and span this final stretch? Will she feel anything for him after all this time?
When he moved away from the city to recover from his surgeries, she wept. Wept for the ways that names had rendered him so many shades of failure. Her singular, magnificent lover made impossible by the stories a body cannot help but tell. Confessions extracted in dangerously public places. Are you a girl or a boy? His cheeks are so smooth. Are you a boy or a girl? He shouldn’t be in this bathroom. She came home one day and knew immediately that he could take no more. He wanted to be one thing. Not this life of neither, skimming forever along the sharp edges of subjectivity.
His usual edges were gone, as he wound himself in their bedspread, crying. She placed her hands on his thighs, laying her face against the smooth, feminine skin between his hips. He fell silent. She could feel his pulse beneath her cheek, hear the wind whistling outside the bedroom window. An eerie silence, made for muttering psalms, she thought. And then he spoke, the androgen receptors in his tissue forming ranks, testosterone binding the broken bodies of his unspoken syllables together until the chemicals themselves stood up to speak: “I am going to transition.”
It was news. It wasn’t news. Some truths bubble; other truths burst. She accompanied him to appointments for the next year, negotiated with insurance providers, injected him in the ass with aplomb. Like throwing a dart, the nurse told her. Don’t hesitate. They began to sleep in separate beds, the surgeries looming, language failing. What was there to say? They found no solace in words or the movements of bodies under sheets.
The night before his final surgery, she came home, found him waiting for her on the cement steps of their brownstone, drinking a beer. He told her his best friend would drive him to the hospital in the morning. That he would be going to his ranch in the Rio Grande Valley to recover. He needed to be alone. Everything shifts, he told her. This isn’t goodbye.
She went inside without responding, feeling as a though her skin had been unstitched from its anchoring tissue, as though her organs were falling out of her body with every step. He called her name. She turned, dropped her lungs at his feet. He kneeled down and picked them up for her. She woke in the morning, alone, to the sound of his grandfather clock ticking.
Now, sitting in the car two years later, she imagines how the hormones must have changed him. A long needle inserted into the lower thigh: a beard. Thick liquid spreading through striated cells: the warm vowels of a tenor. She turns the engine on and begins the final leg of her trek. Deep below her, a lithospheric plate is subducted, one massive portion of the earth tucked underneath another. No one notices. The rate of geological change is unbearably slow.
He hears her before he can see the headlights, the car’s combustions announcing her arrival. After years of anticipation, everything suddenly feels frenetic and he moves to calm his emotions, running inside to check his hair, running outside to track the car’s progress. Two round, halogen eyes appear on the horizon and he freezes. The car approaches and finally stops just short of the porch. After several minutes, she gathers herself together and steps out.
He stands very still, taking in her leather jacket and crisp white shirt, the curve of her hips, the generous curls of her shoulder-length hair. She is dressed for battle, he thinks, as she moves towards him with a panther’s sleek and measuring eye.
He starts toward her, then stops, overwhelmed by the familiar scent of her skin. She smells like the middle of a mango. He rolls his desire between his lips, a Texan tongue turning pleasurably around the top of an r. “Really. You’re really here.”
She nods and reaches out to him, running her hands down his flat chest. And then he falls into her arms in the same way he always did, closing the space between them, her hands in his hair, and his mouth against her neck. After a while, he steps away. Do you want a cocktail? She nods.
She watches the movement of his back muscles as he carries her bags into the house. He is no longer her gender-outlaw, her hard butch-boy with breasts and a slender waist. He is a man. She joins him in the house. “I’m tired from the drive. I’d like to lie down. Do you have a guest room?”
He looks up from making an old fashioned and nods his head. “Of course. I’ll move your bags into the guest room. There are fresh towels in the bathroom if you want to shower before you go to bed.”
She walks down the hall into the bathroom and shuts the door. Opens the medicine cabinet. Small amber bottles are lined up along the top shelf in various states of fullness. His hormones. She turns the shower on, sheds her clothing, enters gratefully into the embrace of the hot water. She places her hands on the tiles underneath the spout, bows her head, stares down at the shape of her legs. And then, because the spending of tears seems so futile, she begins to laugh. She laughs because she does not recognize the man standing in the hallway. She laughs because she misses him and because evolution is scary and because he still smells the same and because she is afraid that loving him will change her own name. A queer recentralization.
He sits outside the darkness of her room while she is sleeping, back pressed against the exposed brick wall in the hallway, shirtless. His arms are crossed below his chest, its beginning marked by the thick white scars from his mastectomy. He wonders what he has done, how he has simultaneously become image and the making of imagery. He is man and the making of man, the phalloplasty, the scrotoplasty, the vaginaectomy. And yet, he is the same being, a person who loves the ferocious woman sleeping beyond the door. He is a virgin, a new utterance that must gather up linguistic associations. He is fluid in a vacuum, discontinuous, his motions mathematically impossible to predict when wet.
She can hear him breathing outside her door. She knows he will sit there all night if she lets him, only returning to his own room if he thinks she is awake. Some things never change: the way insomnia confesses the intimate connections of people denying the impulse to pair. She walks quietly to the door, opens it and is overwhelmed by the sight of him sitting there, knees pulled tightly against his newly sleek chest. She takes him by the hand and leads him into the room. Runs her fingers slowly over his face, concentrating for a moment on the tuft of hair below his lips.
“We’re only sleeping.”
He smiles. There, in that bewitching flash of teeth, she sees her lover again for the first time. And then they curl around each other as if the intensity of their orchestrations must soon assist the sun in lighting the morning. They share scars and fears and sounds so well that when they are finished, there are no meanings left to analyze, no syllables left to spend.
He wakes early. Covers her tenderly and goes outside. He selects the most corpulent oranges, stops to smell their navels. In the kitchen he cuts them into triangles, places them in an orderly fashion on a plate and brings them into her. She opens her eyes when he enters the room. He climbs into bed with her, sets the plate on her naked stomach and squeezes an orange above her lips. She laughs, slapping at his hands, orange juice running down the sides of her face.