← Issue 2

The Target Boy’s Section

by Rowan Smith

Don’t worry, he whispers
You have a right to be here
Besides, you’re too small for the men’s section anyway
Linoleum floors and fluorescent lights stretch out endlessly
Funhouse mirrors around every corner
The occasional stray shoe or pair of boxers on the floor, abandoned without their mate
It’s twenty minutes to closing, and I still haven’t been able to try anything on
Not the sweatpants that I’m afraid will expose the undeniable truth of my hips
Not the jeans that are both too long and too tight
Not the shirts that I know will stretch over my chest, distorting the pattern
A high made into a bad trip
Hey, he says softly, as though I’m an animal that might get spooked by the natural pitch of his voice
The one that rumbles deep in his chest before a single word comes out
What about this one?
He hands me a button down
The kind I always wanted to wear in school pictures
Night sky blue, sprinkled with stars like the flour he always manages to spill on his shirt, even when he wears an apron
My heart flops dully into my rib cage,
Defeated, because it knows I will say no
But too hopeful to give up just yet
I run my fingers over the material, stiff
So unlike my old clothes
Love, he whispers
As though it is my name
Not the one that pinched like the heels I won’t wear anymore
The one we picked off a baby naming website at two am in a Waffle House
Table littered with empty congealed milkshakes after four hours
Do you know how much somebody has to love you to listen to “100 Gender Neutral Names for Cool Kiddos”?
To take you seriously even when you pick a name sandwiched right between Raindrop and Star?
But still he’s here in the Target Boys’ Section
Arms full of shirts I’m too afraid to try on yet
Why can’t I?
Why does my ribcage feel too tight around me?
Why can’t I breathe?
Hey, he whispers, the same voice he used on the baby bird that dropped onto our porch
It was so small, naked, nothing to cover the fresh pink skin but a few scraggly feathers
I wonder how it would feel beneath the glare of these lights that are flattering to neither man nor bird
I wonder who would be more naked
I wonder which one of us is going to grow up faster
Whether we will grow up at all
Which one? he asks, one patterned with rosebuds like stars, the other with constellations like a field of wildflowers
The roaring begins in my ears again
A din like the ocean pounding out its anger on the cliffs
My old name meant daughter of the sea
I was nobody’s daughter, but at least I know where the rage came from
I point to the constellations, finger trembling, almost accusatory
I know the chest will be too tight and
My chest is too tight
And this room is too bright and
Love, he says again
Tree climber
Midnight adventurer
Worst driver I know
Favorite cover stealer
Our dog’s favorite parent
Best friend-
This is not the end
This is only the beginning
Take your time, love.
Take your time.

Rowan Smith ​is a novelist, playwright, and freshman at Bryn Mawr College, where they are double majoring in Creative Writing and English. Their short stories have been published in the US and the UK, and they review upcoming books for Simon and Schuster, Random House, and Harper Collins. They are currently in the process of getting their first book published. Their first musical is in development.