Lovesick Cat Liar

Amber began her transition in a waiting room that made her feel as if she were part of a diorama. Floor-to-ceiling windows surrounded her on three sides, and two fake, waxy, dark green plants bookended the white leather couch. She sat tensely on the couch's center cushion, filling out a form full of questions about her complexion, while a recorded female voice explained the process over the loudspeaker.

Energy from the laser penetrates deep beneath the skin. The focused energy is absorbed by the follicle, destroying it.

A large video screen accompanied the narration, and above it a backlit fiberglass sign bearing the words “Premium Laser Hair Removal” completed the scene. Amber stood quickly, finishing the last of her answers as she walked away, anxious to remove herself from the image before someone walked by outside. “I'm done,” she told the receptionist, pushing the form across the desk.

The receptionist reviewed her answers grimly. “You left the back of the page blank,” she said, drawing a pen from a mason jar of coffee beans.

To alleviate excess heat, the machine fires a burst of nitrogen at the same time as the laser.

“I just need your answer to the last one,” the receptionist said. The point of the pen stagnated in her hand, poised above the clipboard. “What’s your reason for coming in today?”

Whether you're struggling with in-grown hairs or just want to be beach-ready, laser hair removal is the safest, most convenient way to achieve smooth, worry-free skin.

Amber confessed, “Male-to-female gender transition.”

The door behind the desk opened. A middle-aged woman in a white lab coat extended her hand. “I’m Ruth. We’ll be working together.”

“Allen,” Amber said. “Nice to meet you.”

She had already forgotten the woman’s name.

“This way,” the technician said, pointing. “Third door on the left. The one that’s open.”

Behind her, the recording began again. Energy from the laser penetrates deep beneath the skin.

The room was large, aggressively lit, and inhabited by a re-purposed dentist chair. Beside the chair, a bulky, scientific machine hummed.

“These are for you,” the technician said, handing over a pair of plastic sunglasses. “You look like my son.”

Amber stifled a disappointed sigh. “How painful is it?” she asked.

“Similar to a rubber band snap.”

The machine fired in three-snap bursts, Amber’s face growing redder with each one. A red flash appeared in her eyes each time the laser fired, and the pain spiked when the snaps moved along her jawbone. “This is an area where beard hair tends to be heavier,” the technician explained.

When she had finished, the technician informed Amber that undergoing laser treatment had entered her into a contract with her skin. The terms of that contract stated that she was to wear sunscreen whenever she would be in the sun, and that she would only expose herself to the sun when necessary. She was not to shave for seven days, and she was to return every four to six weeks, until all of the hair was gone.

Amber dutifully scheduled her next appointment. The staff struck her as even less personable than the laser, and she felt embarrassed to be associated with the place at all. At least, though, it was the kind of place that would embarrass anybody.

The same could not be said of her other option. There were only two places to get rid of a beard in the metro area, and the other one was a med spa that, at this point in her transition, Amber found inaccessibly feminine. It offered laser treatments, but it also offered massages, facials, seaweed wraps, spray tans, chemical peels, and float pod therapy. She would draw awkward stares from the clientele.

She winced her way through another session, then decided she had made her way firmly onto the staircase to womanhood and needed to keep pushing herself to climb. She discussed her state of affairs with a psychologist, who diagnosed her with gender dysphoria and wrote a letter affirming the need for hormone replacement therapy.

Amber set up an appointment with an endocrinologist who had a three-month backlog, enough time for Amber to drag her face through two more laser sessions, conducted by two different technicians, each of whom donned a pair of plastic gloves and goggles, always a layer removed from their subject.

She could never remember their names.

After each of these sessions, the moments following the appointment snagged her in a riptide of ambivalence. If she could not cope with the pain from the laser, was she really dedicated enough to transition? She hoped that starting hormones would remove her doubts.

The day of her endocrinologist appointment finally came, and she arrived at the clinic half an hour early, psychologist's letter in hand. The endocrinologist sat Amber down in her office and read the letter carefully, aided by reading glasses that made her look old. When she had finished, she smoothed the letter onto her desk and wrote something in the margins. “You should approach everything from this point as though it were permanent,” she said.

Amber's phone began to vibrate in her pocket.

The endocrinologist folded her reading glasses and put them on top of the letter. “With regard to your appearance, I can’t guarantee anything. The changes that hormones make to your body depend on what's in your DNA.”

Amber nodded.

The endocrinologist looked at Amber's pocket, where her phone was still vibrating. “Did you want to get that?” she asked.

“It'll go to voicemail,” Amber said.

The endocrinologist peeled the letter off the desk and slid it into a drawer. While she was looking down, she asked, “Have you frozen your sperm?”

Amber shook her head.

“Did you plan to?” the endocrinologist asked.

Her phone stopped ringing, and Amber mentally tallied the professionals in her life. She had a laser technician, a psychologist, and an endocrinologist. Now she needed a fertility specialist?

“You should do that before you take anything,” the endocrinologist said. “And you should begin very slowly when you do. You should take half of a spironolactone, and then a whole one, and then two, and then you should do the same with the estradiol. Patience is best for your body.”

When she had left the endocrinologist's office, Amber checked her phone. The caller had, in fact, left a voicemail. Premium Laser Hair Removal was going out of business.


The nurse at the fertility clinic gave Amber a sponge with which to sterilize herself and a cup to secure the sample. The room had a couch, a toilet, a trash can, and a TV flashing the words “No Data” in a glowing blue box. Beneath the screen, there was a DVD player. Amber sterilized herself, then stiffly lowered her bottom onto the couch. The cushions were still warm from its last inhabitant. Amber sat perched on the edge, naked, with her back straight. The words “No Data” bounced around the screen, ricocheting off its borders. Amber sighed. A room like this, in a place of medicine. She angled herself toward the cup and began.

She went on like that for two weeks, ducking out of work to visit the fertility clinic twice a week, waiting for the moment when she would decide she had shored up her chances of children enough to stave off any genetic angst. During that time, the hormones the endocrinologist had prescribed sat on her dresser unopened, waiting along with her. Between the cost of freezing sperm, the cost of laser, and the cost of psychologist visits, she was actively losing money for the first time since landing a job as a software engineer.

At one point during those two weeks, she and her psychologist got on the subject of work. She said, “I think a lot about the explanations I'm going to give my boss,” wringing a bright green rubber toy between her hands. “The office has an open floor plan, so everyone sees me when I get up and leave in the middle of the day, and then again when I come back an hour and a half later.”

The psychologist said, “It's common for people at your stage, who have taken steps toward transitioning medically but not socially, to feel as though they are living a double life.”

Amber said, “I'm being forced to come up with a coming-out plan, and I'm not ready to think about one. The other day, I tried to look up the company's policy on trans people and couldn't find a thing. I think I'm the first one.”

She continued to turn the toy over in her hands. It was stretchy, and when she squeezed it all the air would go into a bubble.

She hung her head. “It feels like the things I want to move fast are moving slow, and the things I want to move slow are forcing the issue. Here's a perfect example: Last month I got a voicemail telling me that the place where I've been getting my facial hair removed is closing, so now I have an appointment at an actual, fancy med spa.”

The psychologist scribbled in her notebook.

Amber said, “It’s the kind of place I was excited about fitting into when I became a girl. But now I have to go as a man, looking like some kind of out-of-place voyeur.”

The psychologist said, “I don't think that's a reasonable judgment for a person in a spa to make.”

Amber tightened her fists and sighed. “Maybe, but they wouldn't be wrong. I study women. I look at them and try to figure out how I can be one, and I never see it, so I look harder and harder.”

The psychologist said, “There is an element of experience that you need to internalize.”

Amber slumped her shoulders. “It's just that, aside from my hair, I look totally masculine. It’s too soon.”

The appointment concluded on that note, and Amber drove back to work, where she found out she would be on call for support all weekend.

“Kevin's wife went into labor ahead of schedule,” her boss said, leaning back in a conference room chair. “I know it's not ideal, but you're the person who makes the most sense to take it on.” That weekend, as she was going to bed with her ringer on, hoping there wouldn't be an overnight alert, Amber decided she was done waiting. She took the pharmacy bags off her dresser and tore them open.


The lighting inside the med spa was orange and minimal, and in the background the sound of a creek enveloped the armchairs and fireplace. Seated in one of the armchairs, Amber tried not to make eye contact with any of the other customers. She distracted herself by examining the back of her hand. The hormones seemed to be making her skin softer, but that could also be her wanting to see a difference.

A late-twenties woman in a white uniform emerged from the other side of the wall. “Amber?” she asked, speaking to the ceiling.

“That’s me,” Amber said, standing up. A confused look spread across the woman’s face. “I’m...transitioning,” Amber added.

The woman smiled. “It’s the second room on the right,” she told her, holding the door.

In the brighter light of the laser room, Amber could see how clean the woman’s white uniform was. She could not decide if this place was pleasant or off-putting, if the woman’s cleanliness was a sign that she took pride in herself or a sign that management demanded a certain image. “You’re the first trans client I've had,” the woman said, putting on a pair of plastic gloves.

Amber’s shoulders fell against the vinyl chair and her eyes rotated away from the light. The woman placed the machine on her cheek and began to fire. “So, where are you from?” she asked.

“Here in Virginia,” Amber said. “I’ve lived here my whole life.”

The rubber band snaps zipped across her skin, killing the follicles below.

“I grew up near the coast of South Carolina,” the woman said, leaving an exaggerated twang dangling from the word “Carolina.”

“Every once in a while, I still catch myself missing the palmetto trees, even though I've been up here for almost ten years.”

The pulses stopped, and the machine swung away. Amber sat up. “Is something wrong?”

“No,” the woman said, laughing at her. “You’re just getting a little hot.”

Amber lay back down, and the woman pressed a cold stone against her face. She barely felt the next wave of pulses, and then the stone returned.

After Amber had been escorted back to the waiting room, she watched the receptionist lean toward the computer. The light from the screen cast a glow on her frustratingly perfect skin. Then again, Amber told herself, she was surrounded by skin experts here.

“Six weeks out, we have something on Thursday at ten,” the receptionist said.

The sound of her voice shook Amber out of her fixation. She had been studying again. “That's fine,” she said.

The receptionist asked, “Did you want to stay with Erin?”

She did. Erin, she thought. The name sunk into her memory and quickly spindled its roots. She liked this place.

After glancing at the time on her way into the parking lot, Amber hastily slid into the front seat of her car and turned the key. Her co-workers had recently noticed how often she was ducking out, and they had started saying she was as hard to find as the Loch Ness Monster. The laser appointment had gone longer than she expected, and she did not need to give them any more fodder. The nickname “Loch Ness Allen” was catching on quickly enough as it was.

“Lunch went long,” she said to the windshield.

She didn't sound confident enough. They'd know she was avoiding something. They'd ask her where she had lunch. They'd ask how it could've gone long.

She relaxed her shoulders, put her hands on the wheel, sat straight up, and looked the windshield in the eye. “Lunch went long,” she said.


The more the hormones sank in, the more Amber felt like she was chasing a bus. Her doubt had fallen away, but she could not picture her future as a woman without thinking about how much time she had already lost. Loss permeated everything she looked at. At the gym, she was running on a treadmill of loss. At the mall, every store was lining its windows with loss.

She was far enough along that she was no longer just starting but had no sense of when she’d be finished. Time was the only thing she could think about. The only places she could relax were waiting rooms.

Her second visit to the endocrinologist only brought bad news. Her blood work report showed estrogen up and testosterone down, but both remained within normal male ranges.

In a note appended to the results, the endocrinologist had written, “Things are moving, but this process takes time. The computer system expects your levels to resemble a man's, so we'll know we've made a dent when this report is showing your levels of estrogen and testosterone as 'too high,' and 'too low.'”

Amber's mind was clearing up. Her emotions felt more sustainable, and her sleep was more restful. Reading the results, though, she wondered if she was inventing all of that. She was the kind of person who preferred to defer to the numbers whenever possible.

Winter shortened the days and drew her further into herself. The studying got worse. In addition to watching the women around her, she began leaning closer to mirrors, searching for traces of change in her own face.

She developed, and then fed, a habit of eavesdropping. In the cafeteria at work, in the checkout lines at stores, and at tables in restaurants, she would slightly crane her neck and listen, trying to get a sense of how she would eventually be received. When events involving trans people rippled across the news, she went out into crowded places, her ears operating at their highest level of sensitivity.

The results were inconclusive. People were guarded about their opinions, and the few pieces of solid evidence she got were evenly divided on both sides of the spectrum. When the moment arrived, she would have to tread lightly.

She kept herself warm with a sweater of small reassurances until early January, when Amber had an epiphany that changed the dynamic. The momentum began to gather during one of her appointments with Erin, when the machine beeped to get her attention.

Erin looked over at the monitor, then swung the scope away. “One sec. It’s giving me sass about the nitrogen.”

She took off her gloves and exited the room, leaving the door open behind her.

Amber lay back on the chair, her head resting on her palms. She heard Erin laughing with another staff member in the hallway. By this point, one of Amber's earlier hunches about this place had been all but confirmed. Everyone who worked here was female.

“I’m back,” Erin announced, carrying with her a large metal canister. “Just give me a moment to switch this out.”

“Take your time,” Amber said.

She finished exchanging the nitrogen, and the plasticky scope of the laser machine made contact with Amber’s skin. The mechanical snaps zipped across her face. One of them struck her with enough force to make her flinch, causing a few stray hairs to fall onto her cheek.

Erin reached down and brushed them away.

An electric shiver seemed to tumble into Amber's throat. Erin, who had not noticed, continued to churn through follicles, while Amber's eyes swept the room, searching for what was different. They landed on top of the laser machine's monitor, where Erin had left her plastic gloves.

“Those lashes, man,” Erin said, moving the machine down to Amber's neck. “Between that and your hair, you’re going to have such a curly vibe.”

She removed the machine and produced the stone. Her bare index finger made contact with Amber’s larynx, and another shiver ensued, walking down Amber's vertebrae like a slinky.

“Curly?” Amber said. It came out as more of a gasp than a word.

Erin inspected the spot. “You know those girls,” she said, returning to work. “You see them and the first word you get is ‘curly,’ like they were made for their hair. You’re going to be one of those.”

Amber clenched her shirttail as the laser moved across her, experiencing a feeling like pulling on a warm pair of socks.

Later that week, Amber told her psychologist how she felt, and she was not looking for analysis. She was sharing facts. When the psychologist hesitated to agree, Amber straightened her back, placed her hands on her knees, and said, “I know what you’re writing.”

The psychologist lowered her notebook.

Amber said, “You’re writing down margin notes about how my second puberty is in full swing, how it’s infatuation like a teenage girl would feel.” She let herself collapse back into the sofa, hands gleefully dropping into the cushions. She looked over the psychologist's head. “I disagree. Estrogen has me thinking clearer than I've ever thought, and what I'm thinking about is Erin.”

The psychologist took a sip of water, then went back to writing in her notebook.

“I’ll wait,” Amber said, pausing. She thought she saw discomfort creep into the movement of the psychologist's pen. Amber focused her eyes. “I realized the other day that I've been looking forward to my last few sessions. Can you believe that? They hurt. They cause me to have welts all over my face, and I can’t go outside in the sun, and as soon as I leave them I want to go back in.”

Amber leaned forward. “That tells me these feelings aren't new. The only change is that I know about them.”

Her conviction strengthened each time she saw Erin, and soon her love was testing the bounds of how much it could control. Near the end of an appointment, Erin said, “If you know anyone, we're looking for a new receptionist.” The comment landed heavily in Amber's psyche. She remained fixated on the thought, nearly stepping in front of an SUV as she walked to her car.

She was constantly ducking out of the office already. Maybe, she thought, she could start ducking out to work here part time, long enough for Erin to get to know her outside of the laser room. She was never her best while the pulses were blasting her face. She needed to give herself a better chance.

When she got back to her office, there was a little rubber figurine of the Loch Ness Monster waiting for her on her desk. It sat next to a piece of notebook paper, where one of her co-workers had written, Hello. My name is Loch Ness Allen Jr.

Amber moved the figurine and the note to the side, then tilted her computer screen toward her and went to the med spa's website. The idea collapsed in front of her. All of the job openings were full-time.


Her next endocrinologist visit came on the first mild day since the fall. Her co-workers spent the morning coming up with reasons to go outside, and at forty-five minutes until appointment time, she noticed that most of the floor was empty. She swept her wallet, keys, and phone into her pockets and slid her company-issued laptop into her backpack. She swung her backpack over her shoulders and walked toward the exit, head down like she had just planted a bomb.

A conference room door opened, and her boss emerged. “Heading out?”

“My cat's sick,” Amber said.

At the clinic, she passed through the now-familiar motions of the endocrinologist visit. She checked in, waited for her name, got weighed, answered the required questions about her mental state, and waited again.

The endocrinologist entered the room and began her exam. “Deep breath for me,” she said. The stethoscope felt cold on Amber's back.

She complied. Satisfied, the endocrinologist walked over to her desk and rooted around in a drawer.

My cat's sick, Amber thought. She would need a name and a cat diagnosis between now and the next time she talked to her boss. She would need to periodically mention funny things her cat did for at least a couple weeks. I'm not transitioning, she thought, I just have a cat.

“Now lay back for me,” the endocrinologist said, holding a tape measure.

Amber complied. The endocrinologist’s hands were the temperature of the stethoscope. She stretched the tape measure across Amber's breast and pressed her thumb down on one of its tic marks. The endocrinologist leaned in. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I should have worn my glasses.”

She leaned further in and hung there, then retreated to her desk. She examined Amber’s chart for a moment and wrote something down.

“How much change is left?” Amber said.

The endocrinologist scanned her chart. “It's an imperfect science, but we can infer some things from your blood work.”

Maybe the nurses would know some cat diseases.

“Let’s go ahead and get that done,” the endocrinologist said. “Those results will tell us a lot more.”

The nurse escorted Amber to the blood work chair, rubbed an alcohol swab against the underside of Amber's forearm, and tied an elastic band around her bicep. “Don't look at it,” the nurse said.

Amber breathed in through her mouth, hoarding air. She had hoped to be used to this by now, but if anything, she was more afraid.

The unmistakable pinprick of the needle indicated that the process had begun. The fist in her other hand grew tighter.

“One vial down,” the nurse said. “You’re doing great.”

Amber swallowed and breathed in again. Her head gravitated back in the direction of the plastic tube. She shut her eyes before they got to her forearm.

“And done,” the nurse said, sliding the needle out. The nurse put a piece of gauze on top of the hole and fastened it to the skin with a band-aid. Donating blood, Amber thought. That would have been a better lie.

The endocrinologist published the blood work results to the electronic patient portal the next day. An automated analysis compared the numbers to that of a reference male and displayed red-lettered warnings. Testosterone was dangerously low, and estrogen was precariously high.

Amber read the results on her phone while she was at work, her mind accelerating as she processed their meaning. Earlier, the numbers had said she was a man. Now, they said she was a woman. She had objectively changed from one to the other.

If the numbers were right, then she had no justification to delay releasing herself to the world. She looked around the office, internalizing the numbers. The numbers sank into her, seeming to make her cat sicker. Under the onslaught of the numbers, her cat was in desperate need of medical attention. The numbers made her cat sicker than a cat could remain. Her cat was too sick to go on.


Amber's co-workers never found out. She left them behind, tossing the rubber Loch Ness Monster in a trash can as she walked out for the last time. Erin vouched for her, and she was promptly hired at the med spa as a full-time receptionist. The manager assigned her the responsibility of opening in the morning, and each day she would come in early, enter through the back, and change into her uniform in the bathroom.

She had taken a temporary risk. She was in the early movements of a big, but reversible, swipe at something that felt essential. Once she had changed, she would go about setting up the waiting room. She would turn the lights to the right setting, activate the artificial fireplace, start the recording of nature sounds on the speaker, and check the voicemails from the previous evening.

She worked with two other receptionists, the three of them rotating hours, two of them on duty together at any given time. In her first days, the other receptionists taught her the practicalities of the job. They taught her how to book an appointment, how to charge for a service, and how to manage the waiting list. Next, they taught her the subtleties. They taught her how to fill the silences that prickled when the computer was freezing up, how to keep clients from becoming embarrassed when their credit cards were declined, and how to leave a reminder message without sounding scripted.

Amber was meticulous in the way she conducted her work and earned praise from the staff for keeping their calendars neat. Led by Erin, they eased her into their professional world, and by extension they eased her into her life as a woman.

Whenever there was a lull in the day, Erin would come out into the waiting room and talk to her. During these times, Amber would look up from her chair, contentment draped over her shoulders. Some evenings they would walk out together, and Amber's urgency would flare up, then turn to vapor. She loved Erin, but she loved the current moment, too. While she stood leaning on her car door, talking to Erin, she felt like her transition had ended.

As summer wandered into the city, heating the pavement and moistening the air, Amber gave herself an ultimatum of six months. By then, she would ask Erin out and, once they were steady, go confidently back to technology. In the meantime, she let her lease expire and moved into a smaller apartment, the biggest she could afford on her new salary.

Then Erin left.

Amber was sitting at the desk near the end of the day, tired out from the afternoon. Her desk partner had gone home with a migraine, meaning Amber had spent the afternoon unable to take a break. She sat fixed to her chair, watching the clock shovel away the last remaining hour and hoping the last round of clients would all suddenly cancel.

Erin opened the door to the back and looked around the waiting room. Seeing that no one was there, she proceeded in. “Hi,” she said. “How are you holding up?”

“Exhausted,” Amber said.

Erin smiled at her. “I can imagine.” She shifted her gaze to the wall above Amber for a moment, and then she looked straight at her. “I have some news for you.”

Her tone was apologetic, and Amber's veins clamped.

“I'm moving back to South Carolina,” Erin said. “Heading back home.”

Amber kept herself from moving, even blinking. “Why?” she asked. She tried not to sound accusatory.

“It's embarrassing to talk about,” Erin said. “Have I told you why I moved here?”

Amber shook her head.

“I came because I didn't know I was getting cheated on.”

She paused, now looking at the keyboard next to Amber's wrist. Amber remained still. Under different circumstances, this was a conversation Amber had wanted to have since they had met, where Erin opened up and emptied out her history.

“My boyfriend had moved up here for a job, and we were doing okay long distance, but it also felt like we were waiting each other out. I decided I didn't want to be waited out, so I packed myself up and followed him.”

She raised her eyes from the keyboard to the fireplace and tapped her fingers on the desk. Amber wanted to reach. Erin's hand was right there, less than a foot away. She wanted to reach over and put her own hand on top of it and tell her.

“He wasn't a very brave guy,” Erin continued, “He was so afraid of telling me that he tried to break it off with his other girlfriend, telling her it wasn't right. Meanwhile, I moved in and started working here, started making friends.”

Amber could not move her hand. Her body parts were thinking independently, waiting for each other. Her hand was looking for a signal from her mouth. Her mouth was waiting on her shoulder.

Erin leveled her eyes with Amber's. “She told me herself, and he and I split up. They waited three weeks out of courtesy and then moved in together. I decided I had changed my life for him, and I didn't have to change it back just because he was gone.”

She paused to drop her head and inhale. Amber did not know what she was going to say, but she knew what she was going to express.

“You seem really happy here,” Erin said.

She knew. She had figured it out.

Erin said, “When you first came in, I was so excited. I had never met anyone going through what you were going through before, and I think I took a part of it for myself. I feel like I made you move here, and I need to leave.”

“You didn't,” Amber said.

Erin put a finger on Amber's knuckle, cutting her off, and triggering a shiver. The last one. “The other ladies here like you a lot,” she said. “They all want you to thrive.”

She stood. Amber thought about standing up with her, but she had to remain at the desk. Erin began walking away. Amber thought about following her, but she had to remain at the desk. It was her job, and suddenly she was terrified of losing it. Erin waved goodbye, and Amber remained stuck to her chair as the door closed.

“You should approach everything from this point as though it were permanent,” the endocrinologist had said.

The other ladies liked her a lot.

She remembered the day that Erin had introduced her to everyone, going room to room, saying, “This is Amber.” She said it with confidence, with excitement. “This is Amber. This is Amber. This is Amber...”

A client opened the front door, snapping Amber's attention back into the waiting room. She looked up the client's name, and her lungs turned to broken egg yolks. “I'll let her know you're here,” she said.

The client was here for laser, and Amber watched her fidget on the armchair. Soon, Erin emerged to call her back, a video replay of herself.

The day ended, and Amber locked the front door, then lingered until she was sure the rest of the staff had gone home. She turned off the fireplace and the nature sounds and the lights, then clocked out and went alone into the laser room. It was dark and windowless, and she left it that way as she climbed onto the vinyl chair.

She pushed the door closed with her foot, and then nothing could be seen. The sound of the waiting room phone pushed through the wall, reminding her where she was.

During their sessions, Erin had always seemed in conflict with the pain the laser pulses caused, embarrassed by the intensity. She seemed to mediate it, holding down its natural viciousness. Without her to guide it, though, the machine lay motionless. Amber ran her hand along its head, almost petting it. She had spent so much time underneath of it, and she had no idea how it looked from above. When Erin's replacement arrived, she would ask if she could watch.

M.J. SIONS is a transgender writer from Charlottesville, VA, whose short stories have appeared in Fiction International and The William and Mary Review. Her debut novel, Ever this Night, will be released in late 2023.