On Masculinity: “Her lipstick”
Content Warning: misogyny, violence
“She looks like a whore,” I say, covering my mouth with my hand in case the lady can read lips. I lean back against the wall, hiding my unlit cig behind me.
“It’s her lipstick,” says Danny. “Nobody’s wife wears that colour lipstick. It makes her mouth look like a pussy.”
Danny pulls a cig out of his pocket and lights it right there in front of the lady sitting in the car. He doesn’t care who sees him. Danny takes another cig out of his pocket and hands it to Albert, who’s sitting on the curb. Albert is my little brother. He’s in a school for kids who are slow because he doesn’t know how to read. Danny hands Albert his naked lady zippo and Albert lights up, just like Danny.
Albert holds the zippo out to me, looking at me like I’m a pussy.
The alley behind the gas station is where we always come to smoke. Danny steals cigs from the bag his dad keeps in the freezer. We come here because there’s never anyone here, but today there was the lady in the car. She’s just sitting in the passenger seat staring out the side window. I’ve never smoked in front of someone older than me before.
“She doesn’t give a shit, Thomas,” Danny says. He says it like he doesn’t want me to embarrass him. He waves at the lady but she doesn’t move; she just keeps staring, looking past us at the wall, maybe even past the wall.
“I know,” I say. I take the zippo from Albert but I leave the cig behind my back. Danny’s zippo has a hula dancer on it and when you flick the cap open her head comes off. Mine just has my grandad’s initials on it.
“She looks kinda like Ms. Glover,” Danny says. “Ms. Glover was a babe. Remember last year when she left school and Mr. Plummer got arrested?”
Everyone remembers when Ms. Glover left school. The lady in the car does look like Ms. Glover, except for the lipstick.
I take the cig out from behind my back and flick off the hula girl’s head. I run it along my jeans and it lights the first time. When I was 10 like Albert, I thought you were supposed to swallow the smoke and I’d cough every time, but I’m better at it now. I was scared of sea monsters and boogeymen; I was scared of the dark. Now that I’m 12, I’m not afraid of anything.
Albert flicks his cig out into the alley. “She’s trying not to cry,” he says.
word by Leah Mol
colour by Luis Sipion
From the author: “Youth is a time of naked tribalism, a time when language and behaviours stand as shibboleths. In this story, boys are pretending to be men in order to fit in, but they believe part of being a man is oppressing others. Thomas doesn’t want the lady to see him use the word whore, but he also doesn’t understand the weight that word carries with it. Danny brings up Ms. Glover and hints at the reason she left school, but they don’t explore the importance of that.
This story is about fear and reactions to fear. Fears of children vs. fears of adults. Fears of women vs. fears of men. Fears of imagined monsters, of not fitting in, of getting caught somewhere you shouldn’t be. And fears of the very real monsters that make people cry every day.”
I have to confess to being an absolute intolerable lay-about for the past twelve weeks. Never before has so many eggs on toast been consecutively imbibed. But after week twelve, something changed. You see, I began being able to read the brightness of other people’s souls.
Now – bear with.
I would never lie to you, my reader. A few nights ago, I was watching the box and I could see and feel the density and energy in the souls on screen, you see.
Imagine a sort of X-ray sense, an unlocked potential from partially losing my vision. Not better hearing but a heightened instinct for character.
Quite quickly I’m proud to say I started spotting a pattern. It wasn’t to do with how ‘famous’ or how ‘good’ humans they were, nothing as crude as that, it was to do with their real actions in our little society, you see: watching the whitest ones shine darkest.
The real problem whirs in our nightmarish collective of unhappiness and inequality… while the rich get richer, they stamp up the prices of opportunity and education. Meritocracy?
Bullshit, I’ve always said, only difference is that it’s now in my face, glowing from the screen. Can’t ignore it anymore.
As I watch the oozing blackness pulsate around every orifice of the spiffingly rich and white, I begin to realign where I stand in this mess of a melting pot.
I’m now the guardian of the gates, the one thing that has the god-given ability to grab the status quo by the horns and flip it on its head.
I can physically suck out their prejudices…
I can cure them of their illness.
word by Sam Fresco
colour by el Decertor
listening to the sewer
Above and below surfaces, things fall apart.
I am slick and black but I am not like you. Undulating beneath New York City pavement and thrashing against walls of concrete, my slippery skin has begun to wear. I am speaking to you when you are not listening, filaments of plastic wrappers bind my teeth but I have not lost momentum. The weight of the ocean is throbbing against the tunnels of your subway trains and cars, threatening collapse of cherished architectural capital. How much longer will the patchwork of your tired men hold up the cohesion of this city?
See my shadow as I pass, roaming pre-historic. Feel the echoing THUMP of my tail as you unlock your bicycle from the post, a little tipsy after midnight.
Watch the bathwater drain from the tub and listen for the suction as I inhale your pubic hair, phlegm and soap scum. My belly is pulsating, white, smooth and heavy and I am sick on your waste; hear me groan.
See the ripples and cracks in the concrete, press your ear to open gorges in the sidewalk and listen. I am speaking to you when you are not listening: Hear me as the F train exhales upon arrival – look down for a moment between the platform and doors that rattle.
As you stand immobile on that subway train hurtling underground, remember your mortality. This city constructed with imperial dreams and blood, shrouded with fears as my hard, black dorsal fin propels me through the organized chaos, the quick of my tail displacing the debris, my underbelly pulsating, white, smooth and pristine.
As the tides rise, feel me coursing through the underground arteries – hear me gnash my teeth and see my shadow pass silent beneath your feet.
Above and below surfaces, things fall apart, and you are bound to one another. You glide over oceans, across invisible lines, to reach each other. Return to Montréal and see how colours turn outside your window, suffused with light: you steep handpicked medicine in cold glass jars, wrapping threads she wove around your wrists. You have eaten the fruit: wet strawberries from California, the mint and green grapes she sliced into halves.
word by Alisha Mascarenhas
colour by NYCHOS
On the street she walks along most days there is a wall. The wall is one side of a building and is tall and made of brown bricks, neatly piled and cemented together. The wall has been painted in one spot, up high, and it is this painting of a triangle fox that she watches as she walks. The fox is brightly coloured, with kaleidoscope eyes. The first time she saw it was not so long ago, for she is new here and has only had the courage to walk the streets since she has known to some extent where they join. She told Miles about the fox that first time, but he frowned and kept typing and she couldn’t really explain about the yellow parts and the cave cheeks and the spike of its ears, or how it made her scared and safe at the same time, so she stopped, mid-sentence. Later he touched her hair as he walked to brush his teeth and asked her to tell him more about the tiger. She didn’t correct him.
Then there are the days when she walks down the street with the wall with the painting on it for no reason other than to look up at the fox. She isn’t very busy—jobs are like lucky pigs here—and she feels small and blurry in the apartment on her own. Sometimes as she rounds the bend and lets out a small sigh as she sees the fox up high, there is an old man standing where she stands when she looks at the fox, and he is looking up, too. He gives her a heart ache, with his grubby mittens in the middle of summer, the same drooping plastic bag by his side, every time. She feels so sad – her heart is an emptying bath. But he always moves before she gets to the spot, so, without guilt, she can look up, drinking in the kaleidoscope gaze from above her.
She is looking up at the fox one day, at that time in the very late afternoon when you can almost smell the sun sinking. She does not see the man until he backs into her, his grey hair combed straight and his jacket sticky. She apologizes; chokes out a laugh; wants him to know she does not fear him. He doesn’t seem to hear her. The man stumbles and she moves to let him as he tilts back his head and looks up at the fox. He is saying something—she can hear something croaking out between his upper lip and jaw. She cups her ear to hear him.
word by Laura Helen McPhee-Browne
colour by DAAS
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