Marsha knew it was a silly thing to say. She'd watched a dozen true crime shows on Netflix and every single person who found a body always said that. They thought it was a mannequin in the river, or in the dump, or on the street. Never mind how horrifically out of context a mannequin in those places was, or the fact that mannequins were not proportioned like most people were; they insisted the sallow skin of a corpse was a mannequin before they made the grisly discovery. It always made Marsha think of her aunt's old consignment shop and how she'd spent her Saturdays as a teenager sorting through donation bins. Mannequins had been everywhere. She'd never mistaken any of those dead-eyed vacant stares for something human. No way.
But here she was, spouting the same cliché to the police officer as he interviewed her on her discovery.
"Are you okay, ma'am?" the officer asked. She noticed a twitch in his expression and a shift in his gait, as if he wanted to wrap his arms around her in a hug, but professional instinct told him not to. "Can I get you a glass of water?"
Marsha shook her head. She ran her long red nails through her black hair and tried to recreate the scene for him. Her clichés weren't going to cut it. So she started again from the beginning, from when she stepped out of the train station and turned the corner to the ravine by her bus stop. The officer, God, what was his name?--didn't bother to rewrite any of those details down. The bus stop was easy. So was crossing the street and noticing a red van pull away. She even remembered half the letters of the license plate: BRA. It was funny to her at the time and she had given those details to him quite easily.
But the body. It hung in her vision like a magic eye painting she could not bring into focus. "She was... un. I saw the red. Dress. And blood. And she looked so unreal."
"We know. That's a common response. We can interview about the rest later."
"No, no. I want to get this right." Marsha closed her eyes. There were no shoes on the body. That caught her attention first, because the toes seemed like they would be really cold. So I hadn't thought of her as a mannequin first, Marsha noted. It somehow made her feel better. She was aware of the humanity of the corpse; she wasn't an unfeeling monster.
She was able to get out her full description after that. The body had no shoes. The hair was blonde and matted, tangled into the bushes of the ravine. The woman's dress was open, displaying a chest that seemed to have no nipples. She didn't add that part to the description, though. She wanted to give the woman some dignity.
"You did really well. The license plate letters are going to help for sure," the officer said. He and Marsha both looked behind him as the body was lifted out of the ravine. Several workers became tangled in the bushes, struggling with the body. The dress ripped even more. From between her legs, Marsha noticed the penis. She thought it was another trick of the light at first, another way in which her vision had betrayed her and turned a human being into a mannequin.
But no, there was a penis. The woman was a trans woman.
The officer groaned, as if to echo her realization. "Another one?"
The other officers nodded their disdain. Marsha realized the way they handled the body now differed. They were careless, they were rough. The last strip of dignity was pulled back from the corpse. Marsha's eyes saw red.
"Another one?" she asked. "You have a serial killer?"
"No, ma'am. Nothing is wrong. Just a certain lifestyle leads to certain ends."
Marsha thought of the stab wound against the neck. Red like the woman's dress, artificial like her cause of death. Not a natural part of the lifestyle in the least. Though the officers had now covered up the corpse, the vision remained pressed to Marsha's third eye. She remembered the posters around the community centre from earlier in the week. The amount of women who seemed to go missing, and the women with stronger jawlines and names that didn't seem to match. Hazel. Andrea. And Violet.
A lifestyle injury. It seemed like a sick, cruel joke. As they loaded the body into the coroner van, a sickening sense of dread rolled through Marsha. "What do I do now?"
"What do you need me to do now? Will I be at a trial?"
The officer let out a low laugh that he quickly cut off as he realized the horror on Marsha's face. He put his notebook away in his back pocket. "Don't get ahead of the game. We still need to sort out what's gone on here. Find next of kin."
"And if you can't?"
"That's not your concern."
Marsha wanted to explain so much to him in that moment. But the sun was setting, it was getting dark, and her brother--her brother who used to be her sister, giving her access to understanding she never thought possible--was waiting for her to come home. "And after that?" Marsha pressed. "What is my concern?"
"Look," he said, his voice thin. "We will call if we need you. If you don't hear from us, consider it a good sign. You know the old saying? No news is good news. It applies here, too. You don't have to worry about this anymore."
The officer got into his car and slammed the door. Marsha tried to walk down the street, toward home, but glanced over her shoulder. The empty ravine haunted her.
Three days later, still without a phone call from the police to follow up, the ravine had grown over with a thin layer of snow. The white would cover everything. The silence would continue. Three more days passed with nothing. A week.
Marsha forgot about the mannequin woman until the next victim was found a month later. She was a nameless victim tossed inside an alleyway, only wearing a mini-skirt with a pink top. Tattoo of a dove on the left shoulder blade. The newspaper article laid out every last detail without actually saying anything at all. No transgender status was mentioned, but Marsha knew. Deep down, there could be no other way. She called the police station and found the officer who took her statement.
"I told you," he said, "we would call."
"I think you have a serial killer," she said. "There's another victim. She also doesn't have a name. But I think if you go through the missing people reports filed in the last little while, you'll find her. A lot of people from the Village have been going missing."
The officer didn't say anything. But she heard him breathing like a shadow behind her.
"You have to do something," she pressed. She's not the first and she won't be the last.
"We are doing all we can."
"That's..." Marsha closed her eyes. That was precisely what she was afraid of. The police were doing all they could, and it still amounted to nothing. She saw the woman--the mannequin--again. Her eyelids. "What was her name?"
"The woman I found. What was her name? Did anyone bury her? I want to see."
"Ronald Black," he said after a while.
"That's not her name."
"We don't have any other information at this time."
"But what was her name?"
When the officer only gave her silence, Marsha eventually hung up.
"Look again, sir," Jesse said. He splayed his legs to make his hips seem less wide, and his shoulder more broad. He cursed himself for shaving. The dusting of hair on his upper lip was never that much, but it at least signalled more than his still-out-of-date licence ever could. "It's not Jessica."
The convenience store owner glanced down again. He shrugged. "Jesse. Sure. What year were you born?"
"1988." Jesse beamed. "I'm twenty-nine."
"You look barely nineteen."
"But I'm twenty-nine. Born July 7th 1988. I can give you my mother's date of birth too. Maybe her maiden name and the street I grew up on as a child. Will that convince you it's not a fake ID?"
The store owner's stare turned from hardened to defeated. He tossed the ID back on the counter and turned to open a case where the cigarettes were kept. If not for the shaking hands Jesse got right before therapy, he would have avoided this place. He never passed in these kinds of stores. He was convinced it was the fluorescent lights, the cameras and mirrors around every corner. People were so prone to see theft in stores like this, or conning through fake IDs, that each and every last feminine mannerism still not yet worked out of him was highlighted and suspect.
But he knew it was really his ID. He glanced at the photo of himself two years ago, barely on testosterone, and the F marker where sex was listed. What on earth was the point of changing his damn name if people still saw a girl's one instead? What was the point of having any official ID with a brand new name if there still was a giant F in the centre of the thing? It was always the F that made people's sanity fall away. Always the damn F. Apple cheeks and small hands could be reasoned away by shitty genetics. But an F left no room to doubt his origins. Jesse Martinez was trans.
Jesse lit up his cigarette outside of the store. He should have been smoking at least nine metres away, but he wanted to show some disrespect back for what he'd just received. When Talia, a tall trans woman with a mini-skirt on walked by him, she splayed her hand in a wave.
"You comin' tonight, hon?"
"You know it. Not exactly like we have a choice."
"We always have a choice. It's just not the easy one, you dig?" When he said nothing in response, she gestured to his cigarette. "You mind tossing me one, honey?"
"As long as you stop calling me honey, then we have a deal."
"Pfft." She waved her hand away like it was nothing. Her dismissal grated on his nerves, but he figured he could spare a cigarette. She was one of the most talkative in group; he knew all her secrets if he really wanted to harm her. Talk a bit more about her grandmother whose name she wanted to honour, but who had spit in her face when she came out as trans.. Talia was also one of the favourites of Genie, the therapist who would eventually sign thee letters approving their surgery. Jesse figured he would get brownie points just from being nice to her;:gatekeeper acceptance via osmosis.
"So how are you and your boy?" Talia asked, trying to make small talk. "I hear he dropped out."
"He did. Yes." Jesse didn't want to talk about Anthony's betrayal, as he thought of it. He knew it wasn't a reflection of him or their relationship, but it was hard to accept no longer seeing Anthony in therapy. Anthony now had family money that would allow him to obtain surgery privately. A sister who would help him out when it came time to heal and help him out again if he ever lost his job because of his trans status. He had no use for the therapy sessions that mostly turned into a despair circle jerk. Jesse and Anthony had met bonding over their hatred of events like this, while also lamenting the therapist's necessary role in their lives if they wanted to live their lives as they wished as men. Jesse thought they'd shared a fantasy together about a world that would bend to their whim as soon as they got surgery; the city would be theirs, and they could take it over from all the cissies who had made them feel like shit.
Instead, Anthony was about to join the rank of the cissies. And Jesse, like always, was left to nurse his fantasies alone.
He took a long drag on the cigarette. Talia was reminiscing about group therapy as if it was fucking summer camp, talking about how much she loved Anthony's jokes and dry humour. She didn't seem to think it a hardship that he wasn't there anymore, or that therapy itself wasn't the most invasive and cloying experiences.
"You don't find it strange?" Jesse asked after a moment. "Spilling all our secrets to this place?"
"Nah. Just tell them what they want to hear and you get what you want."
"But it's not that simple."
"It can be if you let it. Remember Genie's advice from the first day? No news is good news. We should strive to be boring. We should strive for normal." Talia laughed while Jesse huffed. "It may be antiquated nonsense, but it's also kind of true. We need to just get our letters and move on. We don't need to make headlines, you know? Life doesn't have to be as hard as you make it out to be.
Jesse stared at the dirt in front of them, his mind reeling. How could any of this be easy? He'd just been called Jessica. He'd always be called Jessica because it looked just close enough to Jesse. He could change his name and start all over again, but even the most masculine name didn't matter if his body was found. They'd peel back the clothing and find a vagina. They'd examine the bones and see child-bearing hips. He was fucked in this life and fucked because there was nothing beyond this one. He would always make the headlines, but it would never be in the gender he wanted.
"You're always pouting," Talia complained. She stamped out her cigarette and gestured for them to walk. "I mean, you don't even have it that bad."
"Yeah," Talia said, cutting him off before he could rant. "Have you even noticed just how many trans women go missing? We're being pegged off, one by one, because we're the gender fodder. The gender monsters. So people kill us. Trans men don't get that."
"Don't even say Brandon Teena because that was a lesbian story. He wasn't killed for being a man but fucking someone's woman. That's it."
Jesse wanted to scream. White-hot rage built inside of him and only cooled as he light another cigarette. Talia kept citing sources about trans women as monstrous, quoting the never-wrong Susan Stryker and Julia Serano. All names he knew. All theories he was familiar with. And really, all points that were valid. Trans women did disappear.
But so did trans men. They just disappeared in different ways than trans women, and no one fucking bothered to see it. Either they disappeared into their former feminine identities through lack of institutional recognition or they passed well enough to disappear into masculinity. Until their pants came off, of course. Jesse thought of all the ways in which he'd studied cis men in high school from afar, attempting to affect masculinity like a role he could slip into. The silent head nods, the flexing in mirrors, the quiet complacency. Trans men disappeared into hormones, into the rage that came more easily and the muscles that clenched underneath skin, but it all fell apart once pants were removed and once that skin was peeled back.
Trans women were murdered, sure, he could accept that. But trans men became silent monsters.
Jesse stamped out the last bit of his cigarette before he entered the building. In the basement of a community centre, a group of sixteen trans people in the midst of their transitions all faced one another in a circle. They gave their names and preferred pronouns before the leader in the centre--always cis, always a medical professional--directed them. They were all pawns in a game. All playing a role.
When Genie called on Talia, she stood up and spoke eloquently. She smiled. She gestured. She was successful in the role and she knew it. It would take another couple weeks, but Jesse knew Talia would get approved for surgery. She would live the rest of her life as a woman. No one would disagree. She would make no headlines. No news would be good news, like Genie always said. Strive for boring. Strive for normal.
When it was his turn, he mumbled. He grunted. He did not emote enough. He failed Genie's test of confessional therapy, but he knew he passed his own. His masculinity covered him like another skin, like a mask that hid his fantasies.
"Well, that was fun," Talia said once the meeting was over. "I suppose I'll see you next week."
"Yeah, something like that."
Jesse smoked as he watched Talia wander down the street. He fingered the knife in his pocket he always carried for self-defense. After he put out his cigarette, he followed behind Talia silently.
"I think something's wrong," Anthony said. He stared into the mug of coffee in front of him. The whipped cream topping had seemed too girly when he ordered it, something that Jesse would have lectured him about if he had been here. He should have been here, but he cancelled at the last minute in a sparse text. Anthony never thought he'd miss the gender-passing nitpicking so much.
Marsha leaned forward on her chair. She extended her hand to Anthony, squeezing him gently. "Want to talk about it?"
"Well, yeah. It's just hard. I know you don't believe me when I say that testosterone has wiped my memory of feeling words, but it's kind of true."
Marsha chuckled lightly. "Oh, I believe it. I just don't think it's purely chemical. It's cultural."
"Sure. Maybe it's both. The truth is often in the middle."
"So what's the middle of what you're worried about? Chances are, it's not benign, but it's probably not as big of a thing as you're making it out to be."
Anthony bit his lip. "I think he's cheating."
"Oh, no sweetie. No." Marsha's face softened. She squeezed his hand again as he went through all the evidence he'd accumulated. Jesse was moodier now than ever before. Already cranky to begin with, it was as if he was riding a wave of ups and downs that would not relent. He'd be sullen and not speak or leave his room for days. Then he'd disappear and come back with manic energy. He wasn't kissing Anthony nearly as much anymore, either. When he did, it was much rougher, and often coupled with his manic periods.
"And he's been going out for longer and longer, sometimes without calling or warning, Anthony said. "He's missing dates like this, too.
"And you're sure it can't be anything else? Maybe he's got a new job or a side gig to help pay for things? I know his parents haven't been great. Maybe he's trying to reconcile with them?"
"Not a chance," Anthony said, laughing a little. "I think he'd kill his parents if he knew he could get way with it."
Marsha blinked. Anthony instantly regretted the words. "Sorry. Not to be so grim. It's just--"
"No, it's fine. I need to strengthen my stomach anyway." Marsha took a shaky drink from her coffee cup. Silence enveloped them. It felt like a wound.
Anthony had heard about the woman in the ditch on the night it happened. He'd dreamed about a graveyard full of mannequin arms between tombstones. When the next woman was found, he'd had the dream again. At first he didn't want to mention the next missing woman poster he'd seen around the city, thinking it would trigger Marsha, but she called him and told him about it. She'd found several more cases too, all trans women, all of whom had gone missing without a trace or been found without being ID'd.
"Any more news?" Anthony asked tentatively.
"Some, yeah. I mean the police aren't helping but I think that the numbers are not as big as I once thought."
"No. Because the police work with legal names or don't find the names to begin with, it's been hard to match up the victims with the missing. But there is overlap and I'm convinced I'm finding it. The numbers are going down. Not much, but some.
"That's... good." Anthony tried to drink his coffee. The words he wanted to say hung between them like a secret dream language that they'd once shared as sisters but had spread out and dispersed since his transition. She was always going to be there for him, but she was always going to be haunted by the negatives of this life. The murder and violence. Jesse's parents abandoning him and the doctors mistreating him. As much as he wanted her to see the better parts of this community, he was coming up on blanks.
"I still haven't found her name, though," Marsha added. "Which still makes me sad."
"I know. I'm sorry. You've done far more than anyone could have."
"But that's the thing. It shouldn't be me but the cops." She sighed and ran her hands through her dark hair. Her nail polish was chipped, the nailbed itself marked with flaked dry skin and red scabs from picking too much. Marsha forced a smile. "So let's not talk about that. Let's talk about your issue. Have you tried talking to Jesse?"
Anthony shook his head. "I could. I mean Nothing is stopping me."
"But I think right now I'm becoming that cop that told you no news was good news. You know a therapist once said it to us, too?"
"Oh, really? That's..."
"Gross, I know. But it also makes a strange type of sense. No news is good news. Don't rock the boat. Strive for boring, strive for normal." Anthony sighed. He glanced down at his chest, still inside a compression binder, and wondered what it would feel like flat. His surgery appointment was in six weeks. Would Jesse still want to fuck him then? Or would his jealousy take over?
Suddenly, the fog lifted from his vision. Marsha noted and raised her eyebrows in suggestion. "You okay?"
"Yeah, I think I figured it out, though. All of this started to happen when Jesse heard about the surgery money I had. When I dropped out of therapy. He's...jealous. He wants what I have so much more, but doesn't have a family who will help."
"He has you, though. He should be happy about that."
"He does, but I need to show him. More than before. Oh." Anthony sighed, feeling relief wash over him. "This is perfect. Thank you so much for talking, Marsh."
"I didn't do much." She shrugged and then held her arms out for a hug. Anthony embraced her easily and squeezed her tight. Under her large winter sweater, he could feel that she was all sharp angles and bones. She was losing weight. But he said nothing about it.
"Call me tonight?" she asked. "Let me know you're okay?"
"How about I call you if something goes wrong?" he suggested, then winked."You know, no news is good news."
Though Marsha rolled her eyes, she also let him go with another squeeze.
Though a part of him wanted to tell her to eat something more than coffee, he wouldn't. She was his older sister. She knew what she was doing.
When Anthony came into the apartment that he shared with Jesse, he found him already there. Jesse stood at the sink, his back stiff. He wore the same pair of jeans as earlier in the day, but he had on no shoes or socks. Dirt was caked onto the front hall mat. Anthony suppressed what he was going to say in greeting when he noticed pats of blood mixed in with the dirt. He moved into the kitchen and noticed blood marking the back of Jesse's shirt.
"Oh my God. Are you okay?"
A dozen scenarios repeated in his mind. Hilary Swank from Boys Don't Cry,
Drew Barrymore from the opening sequence of Scream. When he examined Jesse's face under the low kitchen light, he saw no injuries. Jesse's eyes seemed vacant, his expression immovable.
"You're home early."
"I am,"Anthony said. "But I thought you wouldn't be home at all."
"Well, I am."
Jesse's voice was like ice. It made the hair at the back of Anthony's neck stand up. When he looked at Jesse's hands, he saw blood mixed with soap, runny with water. A knife lined the kitchen sink. The blood on his shirt had no origin, no trace of a wound.
Still, Anthony asked if he was okay again.
"I'm fine. Just a little scratch. Nothing to worry about."
"Okay." Anthony didn't remove his eyes from the bloodstain. "Are you sure? If something happened, you know you can tell me, right?"
"I know. I would."
Silence stretched between them. The din of the running water hitting the metal basin became too much. When Jesse turned it off, all the blood from the knife was gone. So was the soap and pink suds on his hands. The only speck of gore that remained was the blood-stained shirt. Jesse seemed like he wanted to remove it, but couldn't.
Because he doesn't have a binder on, Anthony realized. His breasts were visible. Tightly bound with a sports bra instead of a compression tank, but still visible. And he is ashamed.
"I need some privacy," Jesse said.
"Right. Of course."
Jesse nodded. He left the kitchen for their shared bedroom around the corner. Anthony stood in the kitchen. He put his hands on the sink and looked at the knife. It was not a kitchen knife, like he once thought, but one that hed seen in Jesse's bag in the past. The one for self -defense. He repeated Jesse's claims of self-defense over and over. Anthony suppressed all other dawning thoughts. He heard Jesse shift and change in the other room.
"I have something I want to tell you," Anthony said.
Jesse didn't say anything.
Anthony went on. "I was talking to Marsha and I realized that I was being unfair. I should have shared my surgery money with you."
The shifting stopped. Jesse's breath was heavy. "What do you mean?"
"I should have split it with you. That way we both work together to get what we need."
Jesse appeared in the doorway. The blood was no longer visible. Every trace of what Anthony had just witnessed was now gone, and because it was easier, he let it disappear. In between the two extremes, the answer was somewhere in the middle. Jesse was moody because he missed out on surgery. That was that. Everything else wasn't important.
"Are you serious?" Jesse asked.
"Yes. We're in this together, okay?"
Jesse wrapped him in a hug. It was rough, like usual, but there was tenderness inside it as well. Anthony was sure.. The two of them were happy. Their lives were taking shape together; he should have been focused on them as a unit, on their shared fantasy, rather than anything else.
"Are you going to be okay?" Anthony asked, after the hug was over.
Jesse didn't answer; he merely put the knife that had once been in the sink back into his pocket, and then took Anthony to the couch.
Anthony decided to take the silence as good news.