(Author’s note: “Chokechain” will appear in Transcendent 4, an anthology of the best transgender speculative fiction of 2018.)

When I come home for winter break, halfway through my sophomore year of college, there’s a dead girl sitting with my dad on the living room couch.

She has my face.

I stop halfway through the door, trapped there like I’m staring down a ten-story drop and not some teenage girl in pajama pants. Well — not just any girl. A not-me. A corpse, a blackout-in-progress, a dead thing with my face. And I probably look like an idiot, just staring at her, with snow in my hair and mouth half open. The dead fish look, Mom would call it.

But that’s not it. Not really. I call it the precious few seconds where you collect yourself before going for the throat like a junkyard dog.

Guess I didn’t bury this bitch well enough.

“Hey, welcome home.” Dad lowers his newspaper to give me maybe the ghost of a smile. “Traffic wasn’t too bad?”

I point at the dead girl. “What the fuck is that?”

“Excuse me!” Dad snaps the newspaper shut like a belt in his hand. Dad is the lily-white ex-hippie kind of father, though — he wouldn’t dare beat my ass. But when the dead girl stands? Shit. I step back. Bare my teeth. Swallow down the sick taste in my throat.

“Hi!” She sticks out a hand for me to shake. “Mom told me all about you. She was right, you do kind of look like me. Weird.”

The junkyard dog snarls and so do I. “Who said that?

She stammers uselessly.

“Mom?” she says. “Our mom? She — ”

And then Dad is between us, pushing the dead girl behind him, taking my suitcase and shoving it into my hands. A wheel hits my ribs and I cough.

“No,” he says. “I’m not dealing with this. It can wait until Mom gets home.” He points at me. “You? Your room. Now.”

“What, we’re not gonna talk about this?” This dead thing, this dead girl with my face. “I’m not just going to — ”


The dog is on the tip of my tongue, inches away from tearing out a jugular to delight in the arterial spray, but I just yank out the suitcase handle instead. There’s a copper taste in my mouth somewhere between blood and stale pennies.

Fine. I’d rather go to my room than deal with this.

“It’s okay, honey,” Dad murmurs behind me, smoothing the dead girl’s hair. I stop halfway up the stairs to watch. She’s nodding, eyes shiny with tears, hands pressed together like she’s trying to keep from shaking. A delicate thing, almost, if not for the removable panel etched into her throat. It’s unmistakably there, the lines so faint you’d think they were drawn there with pen. But I know better. I know exactly what the dead girl is. “It’s okay. We’ll talk this over and it’ll all be okay, I promise.”

Not a girl. Not a she. Not a person at all.

An android.


I turn away again.

“I’m — “ the android says to my back. Its voice trembling but hopeful. “I’m your new sister. Natalie.”

It says that name and I just about lose my mind.

I had peeled that name out of my skin with a razor blade and here my parents are, picking scraps of flesh out of the trash to sew onto this thing. I slam my bedroom door.

You know, in a way, I’m almost impressed. My parents have never dirtied their hands reaching into the garbage before. I’m the one with filth crusted under his nails.

So what now? What next? The junkyard dog is straining at his lead and I can feel him in my chest. There’s a chain rattling in my ribs and a growl somewhere in my sternum.

You’d think they’d know better than to fuck with a rabid dog.

Dinner is an under-seasoned chicken casserole because, you know, white people. Mom texts me to come downstairs and I do, huddled in an oversized hoodie and sweatpants as if smothering myself in old clothes will make me more palatable. Not that I want to be palatable. But I do want to get through dinner.

Mom is lurking just inside the kitchen, an ambush predator in chunky businesswoman heels.

“Dad told me about what happened when you got home,” she says.

“Did he.” The casserole looks like shit and I consider blowing all this off and going to Taco Bell like the antisocial asshole I am. It doesn’t help that Dad and the android are talking in the dining room. Probably about me. Dad watches me through the doorway, the unwavering stare of a squirrel keeping too close an eye on a hawk. “Huh.”

“I think we need to have a talk about how rude you were.”

I open the fridge and pull out milk and a bottle of chocolate syrup. The fridge dings as it realizes there’s only half a gallon left and automatically adds it to the grocery list. We have one of those smart refrigerators.

“Sorry,” I say, grabbing a glass. “Can’t talk.”

“Why not?”

I mix my drink and take a big swallow, pointing at the glass.

“Drinking chocolate milk. Mouth’s a little busy.”

There’s a defeated sort of silence in the kitchen. And I think I put a little too much syrup in here.

“Right now,” Mom says, “I just need you to be civil.”

We all get our food and sit. The dining table can technically fit six, but we’ve only ever needed three of the chairs before, so now there’s this awkward shuffling where we try to figure out where we’re going to sit and all of us are acutely aware of the fact that where we sit will be our assigned seating for the entirety of winter break. I don’t get to keep my old spot, either. Figures. It’s the android’s now. Cool, this is fine. This is — this is fine.

“You can have chocolate milk with dinner?” the android asks, eying my glass.

“Chocolate milk is a dessert, sweetheart,” Mom tells it. “Your sis — br — “ She clears her throat. “Is being rude.”

I cough and cover my mouth with a napkin to keep milk from spilling down my chin.

Holy shit.

She can’t even say it.

The android looks disappointed. “Oh.”

Dad points at his food with more force than necessary. “This casserole is great, dear.”

Yeah, no, I’m not going to be able to eat. Not tonight. I’m staring at the android across the table, fork resting limply in my hand, watching this mockery of a human pick through the food like it’s still getting the hang of eating.

The android is almost pretty, in a plain sort of way. There’s nothing distinct about it: just the frizzy brown hair I shaved off, the simple white blouse I tried to throw away. Maybe the makeup I used to force myself to wear.

But it has my face. It has my fucking face, I can’t eat with this thing at the table with me, it’s wearing my old clothes, I want to tear out hair I don’t have anymore, I’m going to reach across the table and snap its fingers just to feel something break in my hands.

“So,” I say, tapping my fork against my plate. A tic. The dog rattling his chain. “How much did it cost?”

“What was that?” Mom says through grit teeth. What she doesn’t say comes through loud and clear: Civil, you ungrateful shit. Dad takes a drink to stay out of the conversation. The android just blinks, a forkful of gross casserole halfway to its mouth.

“How much did it cost?” I jerk my thumb at it. “How many paychecks did you save for this? Did you take out a loan? And the amount of customization, Jesus Christ.” Mom’s face goes red. “It’s even got the same crooked tooth I do, yeah? Right there on the bottom jaw? A little to the left?”

The android whispers, “I don’t understand.”

“Stop it.” Mom leans across the table. “Look what you’re doing, you’re scaring her.”

Dad almost steps in but I don’t let him say a goddamn thing. I get up and slam in my chair so hard it bangs against the table.

“I’m not hungry,” I say.

“You are not going to just get up and leave,” Mom says. “Absolutely not.”

But I do anyway, and I take my chocolate milk with me.

The junkyard dog follows me up the stairs, chain dragging in his mouth. Bark bark, puppy, he says. I put a hand over my throat just to feel him speak. Is that all you got?

When I told Mom I was transgender, she broke down into sobs, body-heaving sobs, and threw herself on the bed like a fainting couch. Do you know how hard this is going to be on us? How much you’re asking from us? People are going to think differently of us, you know. Of me. Of me. Of me.

When I told Dad, he pestered me with so many questions I could barely breathe: are you sure? Maybe you’re just a masculine woman. How do you know? What is a man to you? What does it mean to be a man? I just want to make sure you’re sure. And when I stopped answering, it was like we had never spoken at all.

(The junkyard dog fed on the guts I spilled choking it down, tearing myself apart in anger, bleeding at the gums to play innocent, fake it, pretend I didn’t want to snap. See, see, drawing blood gets you put down.)

(Rabid dogs get shot.)

When I say rabid, this is what I mean:

The first time I drew my own blood, I was the same age as everyone else when they scraped their knee on the playground and stared as the little red beads swelled in clusters like eggs on the back of a mother spider. The first time I drew someone else’s blood, though, I watched in mild fascination as blood dribbled from a shattered nose speckled with glass, twinkling in the dim light of streetlamps. The junkyard dog had crept out of the dark, laughing, dragging his chain behind him. You want to be a real man? he’d said. You know what men do. So do it.

I was arrested and charged with one count of destruction of property and one count of criminal battery. The guy deserved it, though, so it was fine.

Juvenile court is surreal, you know, when you plead guilty and you’re not sorry for what you did. I was sixteen, hair pinned back and curled the way cheerleaders wore it back then, wearing a dress Mom picked out for my court date like it was an actual date, the kind with boys and milkshakes. My parents’ lawyer was cute, I guess, for thirty-something. I pretended I was dressing up for him.

I told the junkyard dog, “I didn’t mean to hit him. I just wanted to break the window. I didn’t know he was there.”

He said, You don’t really believe that, do you?

“I do.”

You’re glad you hurt him.

I shook my head. “I’m not.”

You want to be a real man, don’t you? Don’t you? Because right now, in that dress, you’re not convincing anyone.

I eventually learned that being a man doesn’t mean you have to be callous and cruel — something certain boys-born-boys never learn. But I also learned that’s just the kind of man I am, and I’ll take what I can get.

So, yeah. I’m already foaming at the mouth.

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Forum: Family and Relationships

New thread

Mom bought a Robo & Co android. Looks just like me, except, you know. Not trans. (Rant)

I posted this yesterday. It’s practically a small essay and only makes sense about fifty percent of the time, but it already has seventy comments and there’s at least three fights in the ensuing threads. I’m laid out on the couch while the parents are at work, scrolling through the replies on my phone. Most of them are pretty sympathetic — you’re not supposed to give advice in a Rant thread, anyway.

“Fuck that SUCKS. Honestly that’s super gross. How would THEY feel with replicas of themselves walking around? the fuck”

“I mean cis people are The Worst what did u expect”

There’s one or two replies from cisgender people — they’re here for the “friends/family of trans people” forums — who tell me to calmly talk it over with my parents as if that’s going to help. Yeah, right.

But then: “Are android replicas of living people even legal?”

I stop scrolling.

Right now, the android is upstairs. It has its own room, the guest room across the hall that has suddenly become not a guest room, and I spent the morning Googling if androids actually sleep or not. Apparently, they’re programmed to, but all they can do is lie there with their eyes closed. They’re still “on” the same way a smart device is always “on” so it can hear when you yell, “iOven! Preheat to 350!”

I reply, “?? Elaborate.”

“There was a supreme court case about this shit a while back. Check out this link: but the gist is, this lady’s ex commissioned a full replica of her as an android and she took the company to court for allowing it. She was scared it was going to be used in revenge porn or as a sex doll or something. After all the shit that went down about revenge porn back in 2024, the court wasn’t about to fuck up on that again and she won.”

“Oh! Good morning.”

I hold my phone against my chest as the android picks its way from one stair to the next, holding onto the banister, watching its feet carefully as it goes. It’s wearing my old Hello Kitty pajama bottoms.

“I was actually kind of hoping you’d still be home,” it says.

It leans against the couch, watching me warily. I glare. Other than the panel on the throat, it looks so realistic. I pick apart its appearance, trying to find something else that would clock it as not human, but come up with nothing. There’s even a shine to its lips and a warm glisten to its eyes. I want to grab it by the throat, pull the panel off and reach inside, tear out the wire and peel off the skin, just to see if it bleeds. Just to see if its eyes bulge as it chokes.

“Were you,” is all I reply.

“Yeah. I wanted to ask a question.” It twists a curl of hair around its finger. Less flirty, more nervous. Pretty sure this thing doesn’t know how to be flirty. Nobody wants to program that into a robot. “Do you and Mom get along?”

The dog snarls. I wonder how the two of us must look to him, some terrible approximation of identical twins, half-identical, or maybe a quarter — one of us a man, the other made out of lab-grown flesh. That doesn’t leave much to have in common.

“We used to,” I say.

“Can I ask what happened?”

I shrug. “Who knows. Shaved my head. Stopped wearing dresses.” I go back to my phone. “Don’t do that and you’ll be golden.”

“…oh.” Its voice is so quiet. Barely there at all. Just a little oh.

“You should be fine.”

“Okay. Okay.”

As soon as it turns away to do God knows what, I go back to the forum.

“Hopefully your parents aren’t planning to turn you into a sex doll,” the commenter continues, “but creating an exact replica of a person now requires that person’s signed consent. The problem is, considering the fact you’re a dude now, the company probably considers you two separate people. It’s some bullshit, I know, but it’s not an exact replica so I don’t know what to tell you.”

There’s already another response underneath: “so what ur saying is that if i wanted to get an android of a genderbent betty white that’d be totally legal”

“That’s a very specific kink,” says the commenter, “but technically yes?”

I open the link and scan the webpage.

Huh. Ms. Martinez really fucked that robot up.

I would say there’s an art to staying sane in a household like this, but it’s not much of an art and I’m not much of an artist. So here’s the basics: all you have to do is obsessively hold onto the good times until you can get the hell out of there.

Believe it or not, there actually were good times once. I have remnants of them in my room, tucked away where they can’t be mistaken for anything more than the survival mechanisms they are. Photos, newspaper scraps, flash drives loaded with memories. Little things, little bits of warmth and not much else.

The only item I let out of containment is an old concert shirt — Metallica, Master of Puppets, a hand-me-down from Dad. It’s so old the collar’s gone wooly and the print is faded. It’s just red and white and gold now, black peeking through like cracks in a sidewalk.

And now I can’t find it, which is some bullshit, and also how I end up in the android’s room.

See, Mom does this thing where she takes all my dirty laundry before I can get around to doing it and returns it with a piece of the android’s clothing mixed in. Yesterday, it was a flowy blouse I wore to freshman year picture day. What kind of shit is she trying to pull, honestly? It’s not like she can trick me into wearing it by slipping it underneath my jeans.

So either Mom finally threw it away, or —

“Do you have my shirt?”

The android meets my eyes in the mirror. An eyeshadow pallet clatters against the desk. I can see myself in the reflection there, lurking in the doorway, teeth peeking through my lips. The android’s room is all peach and gold, pretty enough colors. I look like some terrible thing compared to it all, a land mine in a fine art museum, muddying the room with a boy made of scabs and broken glass.

“No?” it says.

“You don’t even know what it looks like.” I come in and shut the door behind me. “Let me look.”

“Uh — ” It backs away as I open the dresser. Fuck. All of these clothes are mine. Not mine anymore, sure, but they had been, three drawers full of shit I tried so hard to throw away and now here they are, staring right back at me. I slam one drawer shut and move to another.

I ask, “What are you getting all dressed up for, huh?”


“What class?”

“The, um — orientation classes. I go twice a week.”

Hadn’t noticed, but alright.

“You need classes to learn how to be a person?”

“I am a person,” it says. “I’m just bad at it, I guess.”

“Are you, though?”


“Are you a person?” I close the second drawer. Wasn’t there, either. Shit.

“Of course I am.”

“Huh.” I walk over, slow, a predator’s stalk, and come up behind it, hands tightening on its shoulders. It stares hard into the mirror with the stiff posture of a prisoner. “Funny. Never fooled me. All we have to do is take off that panel to prove it, right?”

“Please don’t do that,” it whispers.

“Why not? Does it hurt? Do robots feel pain?”

“I’m not a robot!”

I tilt my head. My eyes are bright, canine, not mine, not really.

I ask, “Then what the fuck are you?”

The door swings open and Mom comes in, an old dress of mine clenched in her fist.

Her words: “Oh, hell.” She doesn’t even have to touch me — I scramble back like the bitch is brandishing a red-hot iron. “What has gotten into you! Speaking to your sister like that!”

“I — ”

“Come here.” Mom grabs me and gets all close and serious like I’ve done something really, seriously wrong, the kind of thing she did when the police brought me home in cuffs. This time, though, I don’t swear. I don’t struggle. I just show my teeth. “This is not okay. This kind of behavior? It’s not okay at all.”

“I was just asking if it’d seen my shirt.”

“Not with that language you weren’t. Apologize. Now.”

“I didn’t do anything.”


The junkyard dog rolls his eyes. Sounds like your dad, he says. The android slowly turns, hands clenched in its lap. I make eye contact for just a second.

“Sorry,” I mumble.

Mom nods. “See? Was that so hard?”

And then she boots me out of the room. “We’re almost late,” she hisses. “I don’t need you being difficult.” And then the door slams and I linger there, hand on the molding of the frame, parsing the murmur of their voices as a chain rattles deep in my chest. Ears flat back. Hackles raised.

“Do I have to wear makeup?” the android asks.

“It makes you look cute,” Mom says.

“You let my brother dress himself.”

“Your — you know, doesn’t dress right. I’m just making sure nothing rubs off on you.”

“…I don’t want to wear that. Can I pick something else?”

“It’ll make you look nice. I promise. Now hurry up and put it on, I want to leave soon.”

Even it doesn’t look good in a dress, the junkyard dog cackles. I tug on the choke chain. The damn thing never knows when to shut the fuck up. Wait! Wait.

“What?” I whisper.

Do you still have your old bat?

And then he smiles a toothy smile, all fangs, all the way back into the blackness of his throat.

“Hey,” Dad says as I pull kitchen shears from the knife block. “I feel like we should talk.”

Never a good sign. We need to talk is white middle-class parent speak for I’m going to tear you a new asshole. But, like, in a white middle-class parent sort of way. So there’s no actual ass-ripping at the end, just a crushing sense of disappointment, uselessness, and the ever-present threat of being disowned.

And, of course, he’s engineered the scene like a super-villain, having roped me into helping make dinner so I can’t leave without looking like a douche. This pisses off the junkyard dog so much and he’s snarling at me to leave, leave, just drop the shears and leave, you don’t have to listen to him. But I don’t leave. Funny, the delinquent can’t even walk out of a kitchen.

So instead of anything else, I just flash him a half-hearted smile as I snip a raw chicken breast into cubes. The kind of smile I used to give. “Uh oh.”

“I just — I just want to apologize for bringing in this new family member so suddenly. It’s clearly upset you, and I understand.”

I nearly cut off my own pinkie with the kitchen shears.

Is that why he thinks I’m mad?

“But I really do think you two will get along,” Dad continues as I fumble with the chicken. “You need to give her a chance. You’re a lot alike, you know.”

“I wouldn’t say that.”

Dad shrugs. “I would.”

“Alright. I guess.”

“Exactly.” Dad reaches across me to get a knife from the block and starts cutting up a green pepper. “And you have to cut Mom a little slack, okay? You know, when we got married, all she wanted was a daughter.” I choke. “She was so happy to get you. And when you cut your hair, when you bought all those clothes from Goodwill, you — you broke her heart. I think this is just how she’s processing all of this.”

Rattle the chain. “She’s been processing it for a long time now.”

“It’s hard for her. You dropped this on us so suddenly.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve had time to get over it.” I grab the raw chicken with my bare hands and pour it into the searing pan. “This isn’t about you.”

“It may not be about us, but it’s affecting us anyway.”

“That’s no excuse to treat me like shit in the meantime.”

The kitchen goes silent. Well, not entirely silent, because the chicken, unaware of the emotional gravity of the situation, continues to ignorantly sizzle instead of respecting the moment.

“I think you need to give us a little credit,” Dad says.

“Say my name, then.”

“That isn’t the point — “

“Say my name.”

A beat. More sizzling.

“We accepted you,” he finally decides on. “It just takes time. And it’s rude and cruel to take your feelings out on your new sister. Am I clear?”

Call the android what it is. The dog bares his fangs. A replacement. A REPLACEMENT. You chicken shit motherfucker.

The venom on the words burns my throat as I swallow it back down. “I guess.”

“Alright. Good.” Dad goes back to chopping peppers. “Now, neither of us can take Natalie to her class after dinner tomorrow. Can you drive her?”

I stir the chicken. The oil spits. “Sure.”

According to the estimates on Robo & Co’s website, the base cost of an android runs around twenty grand — the price of a used car around these parts. When it comes to Mom’s android, all the customizations would probably hike it up another ten.

I readjust my bat under the towel so it doesn’t look too suspicious, mull over my handiwork for a moment, and go inside to grab the keys.

At thirty thousand dollars, this is a felony. But if Ms. Martinez got away with it, I think my chances are pretty good, too. Not perfect, but good. Good enough.

“You ready?” I holler up the stairs.

It’s starting to snow outside, the way it had been when I got home, and it’s already getting dark. I huddle next to the radiator, watching fat flakes fall from the sky. The only sound is the truck idling in the driveway. The junkyard dog is pacing, paws hitting the floor in rhythm with my heartbeat. I tug at my scarf like pulling on a choke chain. Just to gag it. Just to tell it to wait.

The android comes down the stairs in my old coat, a black shirt peeking out from the fur collar.

“Why are we leaving so early?” it asks.

“We’re gonna make a detour.”

“To where?”

“I’ll explain in the car. C’mon. I don’t want to be late.”

It follows me outside, staring at the grey sky, and sticks its tongue out to catch a snowflake. There’s some kind of innocence to it. Almost toddler-like, almost sweet. I zip up my coat.

All Robo & Co products comes equipped with a panic system. It’s written on the website, plain and clear. Any extensive damage to the product will immediately alert both Robo & Co and the owner of the product.

It opens the truck door and gets in, eyes still turned skyward.

The bat rests in the back seat, sleeping under the towel. My nails are digging into my palms. All this isn’t its fault, sure. But you can’t just build a better child out of spare parts when your old one stops being exactly what you want. Is this all I’ve ever been to my parents? A daughter? Not their child, not a human being, but a daughter?

Send a message. Bark, bark. You know what men do, so do it.

I start the truck and pull out onto the road, turning up the heat.

“So,” I say. “I know you haven’t seen snow all that much, so I’d figure I’d take you somewhere you can really see it.”

“Oh! That sounds nice.”

“Yeah. It does, doesn’t it. And — consider this an apology. For Wednesday.”

“You already apologized, didn’t you?”

I shake my head. “I mean it this time.”

I set directions on my GPS for an overlook on a secluded mountain drive. It’s a nice place. Beautiful, actually. And here I am, about to fuck that up, like I always do.

The android puts a hand over the vent, grimaces, and shuffles out of its coat. “Can you turn the heat down?”

“Sure. I — “ I glance over. “Is that my shirt?”

The android looks down. It’s my Metallica shirt, all black and red, unmistakably mine down to the frayed bits on the collar. I tear my eyes away to focus on the road.

“I’ve been looking for that,” I say. “I told you I was looking for it. Where did you get it?”

“It was in your things.” Its voice is quiet, so distant, I can barely hear it. “I know, I’m sorry, Mom told me I shouldn’t take things that aren’t mine, but — I don’t like the clothes she gave me.” I blink dumbly. “I just wanted something else. Sorry.”

I shake my head. Clear it like an Etch-A-Sketch. “It’s fine, it’s fine, it’s okay. I just wanted to know. You can wear it.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m sure.”

The android stares at its lap instead of out the window like it had been. “Okay.”

Why are you being nice to it? You’re just going to kill it.

I tug at my scarf again. Choke. It’s not killing. It’s property damage. Thirty grand of property damage. A felony. Choke. Choke.

Pull on the choke chain until you can’t breathe just to shut him up.

The overlook is beautiful in the dark evenings of winter. The truck’s engine ticks as it cools — when pretty much every car is electric these days, it makes me wonder if there’s a speaker under the hood, click-click-clicking, as if to reassure old-timers who still remember the gasoline crises of yesteryear. Snow gathers on blades of browning grass, tucks itself in the crooks of bare tree branches, and spots the roofs of houses below. Up here, we’re alone, and the only other sign of humanity are the gloaming lights dotting the valley like fireflies.

“It’s beautiful,” the android says. Its feet make little impressions in the snow, small footprints. I swipe them out of existence with my shoe.

“Isn’t it?” I say. I open up the back door of the truck and leave it like that to pretend I’m swiping dirt off the rug. The bat is there, hibernating, waiting. “You can go up to the edge and look if you want. There’s a railing.”

“I’m good here.” It wraps my coat around its body, breath coming out in clouds, a yard or two from the edge.

“You won’t fall.”

“I’m fine.”

I wrinkle my nose and step away from the truck, passing it to walk up to the railing and lean over. In the dark, I can barely make out the trees that dot the ten-story drop. My stomach clenches — I hate drops like this. But the junkyard dog is lying in wait, slavering at the ideas swirling in my head. All I have to do is get in one good hit and then I can haul it over the edge. In a forest like this, it’ll never be seen again.

“See?” I say. “It’s not that scary.”

“I don’t like heights.”

I frown. “Didn’t know they programmed in phobias.”

“It’s not a phobia,” it says. “I’m just scared. Aren’t you scared of heights?”

“I am,” I say, “but I like the fear.”

“I don’t get it. I’d rather not die is all.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.

“That’s fair,” I whisper.

I watch for a second as it gazes out on the white-dusted landscape, its mouth slightly open as if grasping for what to say, messy chestnut hair whipping around its face in the breeze. It really does look the way I used to. Twins, half-identical, a quarter, exactly alike, standing across from each other in the winter chill.

The junkyard dog snarls. I put a hand around my own throat, fingers on the arteries. Stay quiet. Stay quiet.

“Making a robot scared of death is a pretty shit move,” I say.

“You think?”

“It’s a really human thing to be scared of. And being human sucks. It should be unethical.”

“That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that,” the android says.

“Figure they never teach that in robot class.”

“I guess not,” it says with a soft laugh. “Not really. But are you serious? You don’t like being a person?”

Stop talking and do it.

“I mean, it’s fine most of the time. But most people think I’m a girl and it’s really pissing me off and there’s not really much I can do about it.”

The android cocks its head.

“Is that why Mom doesn’t like calling you my brother?” it asks.


“She never told me your name.”

My breath stops.

What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this? Don’t hesitate. You chicken shit motherFUCKER.

“Can I ask?” the android says. “What is it?”

“Michael,” I whisper. “My name is Michael.”

“That’s a beautiful name.”

“Thank you.”


“And I like your hair, too.” The android reaches over to brush its fingers across my temple, remnants of the buzz cut I’ve kept since last year. “I asked Mom if I could cut my hair like yours but she said no.”

Drawing blood gets you put down.

“Why would you want to cut it like mine?” I ask.

The junkyard dog looks at me in terror.

“I don’t know,” the android sighs. “I just thought — if you feel better when you look like this, I think I’d feel better, too.” My hands start to tremble. It’s cold. That’s all it is. I’m cold. “But I am kind of annoyed you already picked Michael. I like that name.”

I press my thumb against the carotid artery. My head swims. Choke chain.

“I can help you pick a name,” I whisper. “If you want.”

Rabid dogs get shot.


“I think I’d like that,” the android says, and he walks up to the railing beside me and smiles.

I smile back, and I can breathe.




22. Trans, he/him. Grad student. Rabid dog in the making.

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