Erika McNeil

© Copyright 2022 by Erika McNeil

Photo courtesy of Pexels.
Photo courtesy of Pexels.

When she got caught wearing her Aunt Callah’s panties, Renee’s mother, Holly, beat her 7-year-old ass red and told her to throw the offensive lingerie in the trash. Renee hid them under the floorboard, listening to her mother rip into Callah for hanging her delicates from the rafters.

If only Callah knew Renee was still wearing women’s undergarments. Online, Renee’s profile reveals her six-foot-two-inch height, but the jaws of her first-time clients always drop when she greets them. In-calls only. It’s never worth the Uber ride to anywhere but Popeye’s.

January is slow, so Renee budgets for rent and wifi, but fears falling short on grocery money by month’s end. She has been saving for her boob job for three years and on Valentine’s Day, she’s booking the appointment. There is no need for a re-assignment job. The secret under her skirt is a bonus.

By high school, Renee had to shave every morning, and her late afternoon shadow would catch the scarf she wore against the east coast wind. Catcalls rang out every day after school, usually followed by sharp rocks hurled at the back of her head. She retaliated once, and has an ugly scar above her left eyebrow as evidence.

Back then, when she was a he, everyone called him Jim Paul. Towering over the entire seventh grade, nobody dared to outright mess with JP for fear of his stepfather's heavy hand. Though he had no memory of his biological father, who died on Christmas Eve when JP was a nameless newborn, JP never called his stepfather anything but Joe. And Joe was fine with that. He hadn’t entered JP’s life until middle-age, and already had children of his own. He still feels over-protective of his no-need-for-protection step-son-turned-daughter, even though he and Holly called it quits long before Renee’s transition.

Renee searches for her lilac lipstick. She wants to look young and bright for this returning customer. She hasn’t worked all week, and she needs to pay her phone bill before they cut her off. She finds it and applies a frosty sheen to her puckered lips. A row of wigs sits along a low shelf on styrofoam busts, offering a wide selection of coifs. Renee selects the raven black bob and tucks her damp locks under the netting.

Renee feels her otherness most acutely when she is with her family. They constantly tell her how her loud voice and big gestures call more attention to her than is already inevitable. But Renee is tired of apologizing for taking up space. She kept her identity hidden her entire childhood, wearing oversized hoodies and jogging pants to shroud herself. Now it is her turn to be in the spotlight, loud and proud.

When the phone rings, Renee resists the urge to decline the familiar number, anticipating her mother’s plea for a pack of cigarettes. As much as she regrets bringing Holly to Toronto with her, Renee knows she is saving herself the ride back down east every time her mother is in crisis.

Hi, Mom,” Renee sing-songs, lighting up a fresh cigarette. “Not yet. Don’t worry, he’ll be here shortly.” She flicks the ash into a nearby can and nods. “Yeah, I have half a pack left here for you.” She waits. “I have no idea, mom. You’ll have to ask him yourself.” Rolling her eyes, Renee switches to the other ear. “It’s fine, mom, my client won’t be here until midnight, ok?”

Renee glances in the small mirror on her dressing table, last year’s birthday present from her half-sister, Lydia, currently not on speaking terms with either Renee or Holly. Although feathers had certainly been ruffled at Lydia’s wedding reception last month, Renee knows she will come around, eventually. She always does.

There is a sharp rap on the door. Renee heaves herself up from the swivel chair and walks barefoot to the dark entrance, preparing for the shock she expects to both cause and receive.

Clarence stands in the doorway, all hair and limbs. Their time apart has not diminished his boyish good looks. Clarence blinks once, then pulls his cousin into a bear hug, his slight frame disappearing into her bulky form.

Renee,” he grunts, “It’s been awhile, eh?”

Renee pulls away, squinting as her eyes fill, then grabs Clarence by the shoulder.

You’re late,” she accuses, her voice thick in her throat.

Don’t you remember? I’m a wizard.” Clarence’s words catch on the edges. “So ‘a wizard is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to’, right?”

Renee, for once, is speechless, her face soft and clear.

Here, I brought you something.” Clarence hands her a bright red plastic bag. “Hopefully I still remember your shoe size. Had to convert it.”

Renee pulls its contents out: a pair of black, thigh-high, patent leather, platform stiletto boots.

Trembling slightly, she places them on the parquet flooring and pulls them on. Now almost a foot taller than Clarence, Renee turns a slow circle, her plaid kilt barely kissing the tops of the teetering footwear.

Hot.” Clarence eyes Renee’s crisp white button-down shirt, the sleeves rolled to her elbows.

Pretty sure these will pay for themselves tonight. The guy I’m expecting is super into role-play.” Renee glances at Clarence. “What do I owe you?”

Clarence grins. “Consider it a gift. To commemorate your -” he pauses, gesturing. “Reincarnation.”

Renee grins back. “Mom is on her way over. She’s called me a gazillion times, asking if you’re here yet.”

She still with Joe?”


Lydia coming?”

Nope.” Renee turns to face Clarence. “Mom was asking if you knew she was in town.”

Clarence looks away. “I knew.”

Renee shrugs. “I figured.” She takes a drag from her cigarette. “She got married, you know? And have I got a story for you…” She brushes past him, tapping the end of her cigarette into the kitchen sink.

Clarence settles onto the bed. “It can’t be as interesting as mine.”

Renee grins. “Try me,” she challenges.

Clarence clears his throat. “You’re on.” He takes his jacket off and hangs it over the back of the chair. “Ladies, first.”

Dancer by training, teacher by trade. Mother of two grown-ups, owner of two mutts. Karaoke queen, paint nite junkie, bibliobug bookworm. Erika MacNeil lives and works in Newmarket, ON, Canada. 

Contact Erika

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Another story by Erika

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher