They were staring at a smeared drop of green nail polish on the white tile floor. It was a Wednesday night. Neon bottles lined the sink, styrofoam cups sat on the edge of the empty bathtub they both sat in. Aubrey wouldn’t look at Maud. Maud leaned over and closed the shower curtain, the bathroom light making patterns of coy fish glow around them. “Hey,” she said, tossing a cup at Aubrey’s chest. Aubrey looked at her. “I’ll turn the water on, you know.”
Aubrey laughed. They both smiled. “I hate the smell of it, nail polish,” Aubrey sighed. “But it’s pretty. Especially when your fingers are cold. Hands always look prettier when they’re cold.” Maud glanced down at her hands, her nails chipped. “Are you cold?” she asked. Aubrey shook their head. “No, I’m warm.” Their eyes fill the styrofoam cup. “Probably the alcohol.”
A pause. “Well, your hands are pretty.”
The fish glow.
“Do they look like boy’s hands?”
“They look like hands with green nail polish on them.”
The styrofoam overflows.
“You’re not answering me.”
“You’re not looking at me.”
Aubrey watches the fish. Maud combs through her hair, pulling at the ends. Their legs rest on top of each other. Teeth pull at the bottom lip. Maud leans into the closest fish beside her, whispering: “See ‘em over there? I like the one wearing the green nail polish.” They show their teeth. Aubrey presses their lips against the red one: “Do tell your friend other there she’s just drunk.” Maud scoffs loudly, but her grin is louder.
One of them had just been broken up with by a friend, which can happen. A friend who was also an ex-girlfriend, to both. She wanted to stay an ex-girlfriend, and only that. So, Aubrey bought a case of beer. Maud bought cigarettes. The two roommates drank from styrofoam and smoked together until they felt sick, but Maud couldn’t vomit. Aubrey waited beside her on the bathroom floor, testing new nail polishes. They settled on green. Maud was afraid to get sick on her bed. Aubrey didn’t want the sheets to fuck up her nails. So, the bathtub with the coy fish shower curtain it was.
Maud slid her fingers against the plastic vibrancy. “Where’d you get this, anyway?” she asked Aubrey. Aubrey picked at her cup for moment. “Don,” was the reply. “She gave it to me when we moved in. Kind of a house-warming gift.” Maud felt part of her cramped body wince. “I’m sorry, I forgot,” she sighed. “So did I, actually,” Aubrey said. Then they smirked a little. “Doesn’t matter, it’s stupid to tiptoe. I certainly didn’t.” When Aubrey smiled, you could see the perfect symmetry of their face. Usually to notice symmetry, the face has to be straight, stone-cold still. With Aubrey, it was movement. It wasn’t stiff clothes or bright color or the style of a pose, it was Aubrey. Just Aubrey.
That’s what Maud loved.
“Don wasn’t for you, Aubrey. Nor was she for me years ago, funny enough.”
“I know she wasn’t. Now I do, anyway. You should have seen her face, when she looked at me today, when we met up for coffee. No wonder it didn’t work out, you’re gay, aren’t you? Couldn’t handle my look.”
Aubrey gave a deep dramatic sigh as they lifted their head suddenly, a hot pink feather earring getting caught in flying strands of hair. Maud giggled. “She freaked out that much? That honestly surprises me. I don’t know, maybe I thought she’d understand because of her sexuality.” Aubrey leaned back against the shower wall. “Yeah. She lost her mind about it, really. She wanted me to stay who I was when we were dating, even now. I think it’s hysterical, because I’ve always been Aubrey, you know? But she really wanted me to stay the image she had of me in her head. When she realized me and that image weren’t identical, she just lost it.”
“That you’re non-binary,” Maud said.
Aubrey nodded, but slowly, looking back down at the Styrofoam cup that sat between their legs. Teeth pulling lips. They looked at the fish again. They looked at Maud again. Maud had turned on the water.
“It fucking sucks, Maud. W-Why… I don’t want to be an image. I don’t want… I don’t want to be a label, I don’t want my body or-or someone else’s body to define me. I don’t want to be defined! But yeah, I am. I don’t identify with a gender. And what? What? I can’t say I don’t feel like a male because I have a dick. I fucking love my body, Maud. This is my fucking body. How I dress this body, how I use this body, how I share my body is me. I’m not two people, I’m not three, I’m me. I’m just me.”
Aubrey paused. Breathed. Maud held her breath, trying not to cry too.
“And I loved Donna, I loved being with Donna,” Aubrey said. “Donna was amazing. But I’m not a man to Donna anymore. I’m not a man who’s capable of loving a woman. So, our history, our relationship is now a lie to her. I’m a lie. I’m fake. I’m not real. Someone like me can’t exist. Not even as a friend, as a person she once knew… It’s like she’s ashamed of herself, because she was with someone like me, I guess. Like I deceived her. I didn’t… I didn’t deceive her. I loved her, I was me, damnit. I was Aubrey. I fucking am… me. I gave her who I was, because I do have something to give, Maud. I’m a human being. Be it fucking forbidden the Lord placed a mutant upon this earth who defies a social concept, Maud. Well, I’m not a concept. I’m right here. I’m right here in front of your damn eyes. Even if Donna doesn’t want to see it, or the fucking president of this country doesn’t want to see me, I EXIST.”
A scream and a slam against the bathtub reverberated against Maud, against every white tile, every bottle, against the whole apartment. The fish were too stunned to swim away. A silence overwhelmed the room. Maud crawled a few inches towards her friend, her body on theirs. She held Aubrey’s face. They both were filled with so much water. “I see you,” came out in a whisper. Maud thought she was going to choke on everything she felt, what Aubrey felt, what Donna felt. “I see all of you. Aubrey,” she said, trying to push out her voice. Aubrey heard her, saw her. “I love you so much,” she mouthed. Aubrey didn’t need to be held, but Maud held her anyway, tightly against the flesh and bones of her chest. “I love you, too,” Aubrey said, unaware of their smudged nails.
For a long time, they stayed like that: holding each other in the white bathroom, surrounded by color.
Rebecca Bright is an English and creative writing student with a minor in gender, women’s and sexuality studies at the University of Iowa. She has her own blog, www.labeccabright.blogspot.com, featuring pieces such as her experience at the Women’s March on Washington in D.C., to samples from letter-writing campaigns advocating for women, minority, and LGBTQ+ rights.