Alexander Seils

Shards of Rainbow

The End

James halted at the end of the cul-de-sac and bent over, clutching his knees. His heart rattled against his ribcage. He and his meager group of friends were in the school cafeteria, eating rubbery chicken sandwiches and conversing about the girl’s-choice dance they went to last weekend when he got the notification about the package delivery. Deciding he wouldn’t miss much, he had muttered an unintelligible comment about bad cramps, and fled the school to run all the way home.

Each house on his street was nearly identical—beige stucco, white shutters, and brown shingles. Some boasted dainty flowerbeds of tulips, all of which were in bloom. Manicured trees lined the sidewalk. At the very end was the Presleys’ house, decked out in political signs as a direct response to the Zimmermans’ yard across from them, where a single rainbow flag fluttered. James studied the flag for a moment as he caught his breath. It stood at attention, a stalwart soldier in the trenches of conservative America. Its purple stripe hung limp, fraying into oblivion. Just a few months ago, the oldest Presley child took a pocketknife to it, and the Zimmermans hadn’t gotten around to replacing it yet. A new one would likely be vandalized just the same.

The colors burned James’s retinas. His dad sometimes complained about the flag, saying it disrupted the pleasant atmosphere of the street. James himself thought the same about the Presleys’ signs—but he supposed Mrs. and Mrs. Zimmerman were easier to gossip about.

James checked his garage. It was open, and his mom’s little Toyota was parked inside. He jogged up the stairs to the front porch. A box the size of a standard hardcover sat by the door. Inconspicuous packaging, the company had promised. But the box beckoned him forward, as though a spotlight shone on it, and he picked it up.

His legal name frowned at him from the shipping label; he quickly slid the package in his backpack, trying to shush the insidious messages it hissed into his head.

Before opening the door, he froze, remembering that he had promised his parents just yesterday to stop skipping school. Going right through the front door now would get him grounded until his grades rose to Cs. Getting caught with the package would mean having to explain what was inside, which would be much worse.

He hid behind the maple tree in the side yard, then texted his friend Louise, who was a senior and had a free period after lunch.

Can I come over?

Sure, for a bit, she responded.

Did James even want to hide out at Louise’s place? In her bedroom, with the crosses on the wall and the bibles on the bookshelf? The package would probably melt through his backpack, like a sign from hell itself, and then she would know all about his secret and tell it to his parents and everyone at school—and they would all be absolutely horrified.

Nevermind, James replied. Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes. He pulled the blue-dyed ends of his long hair away from the tree trunk. Going back to school wasn’t an option either—he needed to pee and couldn’t bring himself to use the public restroom. He had to sneak inside the house, through the back door, without his mom knowing.

Which would prove difficult, because TJ had already spotted him.

James’s golden-tan Boxer scampered to a large hole in the fence and dropped a squeaky toy through it. When James didn’t make a move for the saliva-covered toy, a low woof sounded in the back of TJ’s throat.

“Ok! Quiet!” James tossed the toy over the fence a few feet away. As TJ fetched it, he threw his backpack over then scaled the fence himself to avoid the gate’s grinding hinges.

“TJ,” he said, “go inside.”

The dog, holding the toy between his shining teeth, cocked his head to the side.

James huffed, grabbed TJ by the collar, and led him to the doggie door near the back porch, making sure he stayed away from any windows. “Inside,” he repeated.

TJ dropped his toy and ducked through the door. James listened to the dog trot around on the hardwood floor, claws tapping and collar jingling. There were no audible voices, so he peered through the glass door into the kitchen. The lights were off, even the ones down the hallway, which meant his mom was probably working in her office in the basement. James stepped inside, took his shoes off, and tucked them under his arm.

Lemon-scented cleaner wafted through the kitchen. A new rug was in the hallway; its corners rolled under themselves. A vase of fresh lilies sat on the dining table, next to a bowl covered with a towel. His parents must be expecting guests—coworkers? Someone from church? He didn’t know, and didn’t particularly care, as long as they saved food for him.

James beckoned TJ to follow and headed to his room, keeping his feet light on the staircase. TJ walked on the seventh step and a long, eerie creak penetrated the air. James cringed but kept climbing. He put his shoes and backpack away in his room, then made TJ wait while he used the restroom down the hall. He didn’t flush the toilet and plugged the drain before washing his hands, so his mother didn’t hear the water pipes running.

When he returned to his bedroom, he locked the door. Tattered paperbacks were in precarious stacks around the room, each a miniature Leaning Tower of Pisa, and posters for various horror movies covered the walls, their presence somehow comforting. The air smelled of aging paper. TJ hopped onto the bed and settled on the quilt, which had been a gift from James’s grandparents. His given name was embroidered in the center, and every time he saw it, he felt sick. Maybe he could ask for a new one.

He retrieved the box from his backpack. The name on the shipping label laughed at him. Scrunching his nose, he opened the box and ripped the label in half. Tape stuck to his shaking fingers, and he tore the cardboard trying to pry it off. Inside, between ruffles of pink and blue tissue paper, laid a rainbow-colored package. The color seemed to spill into the room, like the first drops of paint on a blank canvas. It danced off the walls and ceiling, intermingling with shimmer from the prism windchimes hanging by the window, and sprayed over the posters.

TJ lifted his head to follow the colors to their source. James shooed him away, worried he would snatch the package and run.

There were stickers inside the package—pink, blue, and white hearts—and a brochure. He flipped through it, though he already knew what the safety guidelines were—he had read them obsessively on the company’s website before ordering. But what if he bought the wrong size? He had mowed and pulled weeds in the Presleys’ sprawling backyard, and sold a signed Neil Gaiman novel to earn enough for this. What if it didn’t work, and he had wasted not only his money, but his time? Not to mention the book, a prized possession.

More importantly, what if his parents found out? What would they think? His mom was home—she could walk in at any moment and discover his secret.

Despite James’s hesitation, his eyes kept returning to the open bag. A sliver of peachy-orange fabric peeked out. His fingers itched. He threw the brochure down and blew a lock of hair away from his face. It was too late to turn back now—he’d spent nearly seventy dollars on this and waited weeks for it to arrive. He had to try it on.

TJ gave James’s hand a reassuring lick, his tongue rough as sandpaper. It was like he knew what had simmered beneath James’s subconscious for years, and was just waiting for him to do something about it.

“Ok, buddy,” James whispered. “Here goes nothing.”

He reached into the bag once more and grabbed the last item: a chest binder. The fabric was buttery and cold from sitting outside; its seams were barely noticeable. It didn’t seem like it would make his chest flat—it was so sleek. Inconspicuous. Nothing like the several sports bras he currently wore. It was like trading old chainmail for some new, fantastical technology.

As James took off his oversized hoodie and bras, TJ stood upright on the bed, eyes bright, watching the event unfold. James tried to pull the binder over his head like a t-shirt at first, but his arms got stuck. The fabric squeezed his shoulders. He wiggled out of it with a flustered grunt. Someone’s review said to step into it and shimmy it up like a pair of skinny jeans, but James didn’t think it would fit over his hips.

A new despairing thought started to form in his mind and he took a deep breath to silence it. Then he tried again, this time pulling the binder over one shoulder at a time and unfurling the fabric over his chest. He yanked his hair from under the straps, adjusted, and took a few more calming breaths. It fit fine—he could still breathe and move—but it was disconcerting somehow, like someone was hugging him and wouldn’t let go. Both annoying and welcome. He supposed he would get used to the sensation.

TJ twisted in circles on the bed. James copied, spinning around to let TJ see. “Does it look ok?” he asked.

Growling in a way that sounded like a cat’s purr, TJ jumped down from the bed, knocking over a stack of books, which fell in a sequence of thuds. TJ’s tail thumped against the doorframe and he barked.

James flinched. “Quiet,” he said, listening for footsteps on the stairs. But nothing came.

The dog whimpered and bumped his shoulder against the door. Go look! he seemed to say. Look at you! Hurry! Now!

There were no mirrors in James’s room. He had removed them all a few years ago to avoid looking at himself. Part of him didn’t want to know if the binder had flattened his chest—if it didn’t, then what?—but the other part of him screamed with curiosity.

It’s only fair to the company for me to give an honest review, he thought. And the only way he could do that was if he saw himself.

The doorknob turned with a squeak. TJ scurried into the small bathroom down the hall, his paws pitter-pattering on the white tile. James pulled on a T-shirt and followed, instinctively covering his chest. The sink was still plugged from when he washed his hands, but the water was draining away. He pushed the bathroom door closed behind him, not even bothering with the unreliable lock, and nearly tripped over TJ as he did so.

“For Christ’s sake, move,” he said.

TJ cocked his head, confused—almost hurt at James’s flustered tone.

James sighed. “Sorry.” He nudged TJ with his foot, and the dog climbed into the dye-stained bathtub, looking expectantly at the cabinet above the toilet where they kept his shampoo.

“You can have a bath later,” James said.

He took a breath, removed his shirt, and pivoted to face the mirror.

His jaw dropped upon seeing himself. He touched his chest, then rubbed his forehead, then touched his chest again and turned to look at his side profile. The binder worked—his chest was flat—and something in his head clicked, like a locket snapping shut.

A wave of vibrancy rolled over the bathroom. TJ’s fur glowed golden and bronze. The dye-stain in the bathtub surged electric blue. The warm colors on the shower curtain melted together and danced as James’s vision blurred with tears. He was vaguely aware of noises coming from TJ, but over the roaring tsunami in his ears he couldn’t be sure what it was. He tried different movements—bending over, reaching up—transfixed by the flatness of his chest.

The euphoric moment subsided when a lock of blond hair fell over his shoulder, causing him to shudder. He swore and swept his hair into a ponytail to get it out of the way.

His parents had never let him cut it, even as a child. They thought it was pretty, but it had only ever been annoying to him. It got caught on buttons and in car doors, and never laid correctly on his head no matter how much time he spent styling it. He hated how it brushed his skin when he moved. And now, as he looked at his reflection in the mirror, he was irritated that he had it at all.

But his anger swiftly gave way to an idea.

Still bunching his hair in one hand, James opened the cupboard and found an old pair of scissors. The handles were cracked plastic, with cold metal underneath. He tried them out, and a quiet snip cut through the air. TJ barked relentlessly, standing with his front paws on the bathtub’s ledge, ready to jump out.

Just as he brought the scissors to his head, a distinct creak echoed from the stairwell, followed by his mother’s airy voice. “TJ?” she called, clicking her tongue. “Are you up there?”

James’s chest constricted. The scissors nearly slipped from his hands, and he gripped them tighter, pressing the metal into his palm. He had to act fast. There was a blind corner that hid the bathroom door and James’s room from the staircase. If he sent TJ around it now, his mom may not investigate—TJ often spent time in James’s room while he was at school.

He set the scissors down and carefully opened the door. Go, he mouthed to TJ, pointing to the hallway. He grabbed a comb from the counter and tossed it outside the bathroom. It landed softly on the carpet, with barely a sound. GO.

TJ scrambled out of the tub, eyes set on the comb. Once his tail cleared the threshold, James shut the door and turned off the light. He held his breath, fighting a wave of nausea. His body shook.

There were footsteps and rustling in the hallway. “There you are,” his mother said to TJ. “Give me that. You need to be quiet—I’m working.”

The dog whimpered once. Then the sound of his mom’s footsteps and TJ’s jingling collar faded.

James sighed and waited for his stomach to settle before flicking the light switch on. Color, now muted, washed over the bathroom. He looked in the mirror, and was again reminded of the mess of hair curling over his shoulders.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the scissors balanced on the edge of the sink, blades gaping. He picked them up, and his fingers fumbled to find their places in the loops.

Surely everyone would be disappointed if he cut his hair. He could already see the deep worry lines in his dad’s forehead and the prying questions from his mom’s eyes. “It’s not proper for a girl to have short hair,” they would say. The Presley kids would terrorize him for it. And his friends would tease him.

Well, he thought, they already tease me, and I’m not a girl anyway. The way the binder felt like a familiar warm blanket, and the way he mouthed his chosen name, James, as he looked into the mirror proved that.

For him, the binder was the first step in the right direction. It would still be a long journey from here—so he might as well take another step. Damn what his parents thought; damn what his friends thought. This body was his home, and it was about time he started feeling welcome in it.

James lifted his hair as far as he could above his head, twisted it, and brought the scissors to the edge of the strands. He took another glance at himself and inhaled sharply—the resolute line of his lips, his flushed cheeks shiny with tears, his flat chest—then snapped the scissors closed.

Once he made the first cut, he couldn’t stop. He began chopping with reckless abandon, watching as sections of hair fell into the sink and onto the tile floor. The snip snap of the scissors was all he could hear over his sobs, which bubbled from deep within. He cried for the person he knew he was inside, cried for the years he wasted growing his hair long, using his deadname, living as a girl—trying to contort himself into a shape that was never meant for him. Tiny pieces of hair floated around him, glittering in the fluorescent light.

When he finished, what was left on his head looked like something right out of an anime—untamed locks that laid over his ears and forehead, barely concealing his eyes. Holy shit, he thought, I look like an anime character. The thought stopped him from smoothing down the hairs sticking out, and a laugh jolted from his throat. The vast space that had formed between his body and his mind closed.

“I’m transgender,” he whispered. The words tumbled in his mouth like hard candy, overwhelmingly sweet. He had known this for some time, but now it stared him directly in the face—tangible. Real.

After a moment, he remembered where he was and shook himself out of the reverie. He cleaned up the bathroom, pulled his shirt back on, and snuck back into his room. TJ was waiting on the bed. The dog’s bored expression quickly gave way to elation.

“What am I going to do?” James said, locking the door. “Say it was a dare?”

TJ hopped down from the bed and licked James’s hand.

The two stood in silence for a moment, TJ nuzzling James’s leg. “I’ll figure it out,” James said. “And I’ll have you with me.” Then he stuffed the binder’s packaging deep in the trash, where nobody would see it.

He chose a novel and climbed into bed to read, but exhaustion soon overtook him. TJ rested at the end of the bed with his head on James’s ankle. As they both dozed off, the prisms hanging by the window turned in lazy circles, casting shards of rainbow over the poster-covered walls.

The Beginning

Alexander Seils is a transgender student at Southern Utah University, studying Political Science, Creative Writing, and Sociology. They live with their partner and an exponentially growing number of houseplants and books. When he is not writing, Alexander enjoys knitting. “Shards of Rainbow” is his first publication.