26 parts of a Speculative Fiction story by J Lenni Dorner
The autumn vegetable soup finishes at the same time as the grilled cheese sandwiches Mercedes begged to have tonight. I debate allowing dinner in the living room in front of the television. Or maybe letting my kids eat in their bedrooms. But the soup could spill, and I don’t feel like cleaning it up. Plus, today would have been my son’s birthday, and he liked eating around the kitchen island.
“Hey, break time.” I kiss the top of Mercedes’ head. “Your other sibling upstairs?”
“Yup.” She glues one more ring around Saturn.
“Any idea which identity is on point today?”
“Nope. Want me to call her?”
“That would be nice. I have to pour our drinks and dish out the food.”
A second later, Mercedes belts out, “Hey, Turd wad, get down here!”
“Was that necessary?” I smack the edge of the counter.
“If you buy me a phone I could just send a nice text.”
“I’m not buying you a phone until you’re more responsible. Turd wad is not an appropriate name.”
Mercedes hops onto a kitchen stool. “Well, I didn’t want to misgender or whatever.”
I pass her a glass of milk. There just isn’t any argument left in me today.
Mystic walks in the door as I finish filling the soup bowls. “Hi, Sweetheart. How was group?”
“Dad! You know I can’t talk about it.”
I put up my hands defensively.
“Grilled cheese? Really? Why couldn’t we just have soup? Are you trying to make me gain weight?” She slams her keys on the countertop.
“I wanted it. Eat my stupid vegetable soup. I’ll take your sandwich.” Mercedes shoves her bowl toward Mystic, spilling broth on the counter.
“Yeah, like I’m going to eat two bowls of soup? Dad!”
They both stare at me. I remind myself I’m grateful for them. The bickering is better than silence. “No switching food. Any leftovers will be my lunch tomorrow. Where’s your sister?”
“Don’t you mean—” Mercedes raises a finger.
“You both know who I meant!” I slam my fist on the counter, shut my eyes, and count to ten.
I make it to three before a sniffle interrupts me.
“Why can’t you respect who I am?”
Crap. “I didn’t…” I pause. What’s my answer? I didn’t care enough to think about my words? I’m too upset because I miss my wife and other child? I’m tired and angry and feel like I have nothing left to give? Those are excuses, not reasons to upset my offspring. My preeminent role in life is to love and support this family.
“I didn’t choose my words carefully. I apologize. Dinner is ready.” I motion to the empty stool.
“Black pajamas?” Mystic asks. “How are we supposed to tell which pronoun you’re using? I thought you were going to wear a pink hair clip on Darcy days and the shamrock necklace on Daunte days.”
“Doesn’t seem to matter. My little sister calls me a turd wad and dad still thinks of me as just a daughter.”
I shove my hands in my pockets. The business card pokes my fingers. I have no interest in being a fighter for the weird guy in the graveyard. Right now though, I wouldn’t mind being in the audience.
When you aren’t sure of someone’s gender, how do you avoid misgendering?
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