June 26, 2024

Girl crying, thoughtful clown looking down at the dog with rabbit in mouth, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA.
Can You Hear Me? Fiction by Grace Byron

Her favorite part of the night out was always the cab ride home. The disadvantage of taking the subway home was too great; you could see the M from below when you missed it, careening out of the elevated station into the darkness. Not again, not after a night like that, of meeting yet another struggling musician. Chugging bodega coffee at five beforehand hadn’t made it any better. By two in the morning she was desperate to go home. An early night, by Carter’s usual standards. 

The city raced by in dismal vignettes. Couples fighting on the sidewalk, men screaming on bikes, girls giggling while trying to stay warm, the buzzing neon signs. Her whole night had been pathetic. A friend had pushed her into going. Not even a close friend, just a going-out friend, someone she didn’t want to disappoint in case she needed a drinking buddy down the line. 

At the club after a few drinks, Carter saw an old fling parting the crowd with his broad, tattooed shoulders. He was just some cis guy she used to sleep with when she got lonely, the kind of guy who read Slavoj Žižek after graduating from Columbia. His thesis had been a Marxist reading of Jonathan Franzen. When he finally found her, Carter realized she couldn’t remember his name. Her friend politely introduced herself before heading off to get a drink. That was nice of her, Carter thought. The friend could smell her desperate lust. After a few minutes he put his hand over her shoulder and nudged her against the wall. She took the bait. As he started talking about the Frankfurt School, she pressed her lips against his to get him to shut up. 

He took her to the bathroom and locked the stall. Carter turned to face the gray wall as he pulled down her underwear. She didn’t want to debate if it was a form of self-harm anymore, it didn’t matter as long as her body felt the pressure.

“You’re such a bad girl,” he purred. She didn’t say anything. Afterward she exited the club without saying goodbye to her friend.


The cab driver greeted her and put on his blinkers. She shifted uneasily in her seat and mumbled a quiet thank you under the depressing Top 40 break up song she couldn’t remember the name of. 

Her small studio in Flatbush glimmered with Christmas lights, welcoming her home. No one greeted her as she unlocked the door. She had refused to get her own pet after the breakup. Turning off the lights, Carter thought about the bad spot her ex left her in. No apartment, no pet visitation rights. Don’tthinkabouttheex. Don’tthinkabouttheex. 


The next day she waited for someone to message her on the terrible dating app with a bright orange mask like an ugly Transformer. 

Eventually her phone buzzed. It was a girl. The girl was four months old. She didn’t have breasts, not really, not yet, and a brief internet stalking yielded a large amount of cringe content. Carter was horny enough it didn’t matter, she could top that night, would figure it out, lead the way. Winona. An extravagant name, but pretty, she thought. The girl was already calling her an elder, trying to make it sound sexy. 

Carter crossed the kitchen to fill her water bottle. The sink looked like a Precambrian ocean floor, squirming with water bugs and runes of soap. The song echoing off her laptop speakers in the other room suddenly clicked into focus. Fragile guitar pickings cued her into one of their songs. She couldn’t get distracted during the work day. It was the worst to be sad in the morning—there was still so much of the day left. Of course, to be sad at 3pm was also the worst. You had to fill the afternoon. 8pm, 9pm left you feeling the pain of the night. 

Her microwave laughed at her. She couldn’t blame the dinky little machine. Carter was not, she had to admit, a girl who made tea with a kettle. Every morning she used her microwave to heat water up while she rummaged for the cheap packets she bought in bulk from the supermarket. She had tried to adapt to a kettle but the requisite patience was too much. It was simpler to use a machine, and she couldn’t be bothered to get an electric kettle. Her ex hated that she never used a kettle, never remembered to bring a reusable grocery bag, tore off her nail polish and left it on his bed covers. 

It’s the little scuffles that make love worth tending to. If foxes didn’t get into the garden sometimes, how would you know which flowers were your favorite? Not that Carter ever had a garden. She had let every spider plant she’d been given wilt. 

The girl was sending long, rambly messages about a philosopher Carter hadn’t heard of. A trans woman from Switzerland who wrote long books about the gender of fruit bats and poems about Simone Weil and Hilma Af Klimt. Winona, or Win as she told Carter to call her, had started hormones two months after breaking up with her long-term college girlfriend. It was hard to tell what emotional register the girl was texting her in. Manic, horny, naive, all three. 

Warming up her tea, Carter briefly entertained sending a picture of the microwave to her ex, but decided against it. He was probably busy. Usually at that time of day they had watched the alley cats climb the fence in his backyard. A scrawny tortoiseshell staring down a large calico from the otherside of the lilacs. Roses sloped in the low grass among unruly hedges. 

“Do you think they’re strays,” Carter asked him once. 

“No, they’re too calm.” 

His own tortie stood perched at the window, staring at her reflection down below. “Twins,” she said. 


They ended up texting for a few hours while Carter constructed infographics about homicide rates for trans women in the US. She tried not to think about the commodification of pain. How much per hour she was paid to exact faux-vengeance over death by informing the public. Her boss was asking her how long it would take to make a slideshow about one woman in particular who had been— she didn’t want to think about it. She disconnected from her body like an eel squirming on the ocean floor. Win was a welcome distraction. 

u want to come over? 

Carter was glad she wouldn’t have to host. Hosts always had to negotiate hookups like a hostage crisis. It could be punishing to play the entertainer. 


Most of her post-breakup sex was lackluster, cis men eating her face like vicious chimeras. When she did hook up with women she strapped them with ruthless ambition. It was best when they looked back at her, mouths open wide in atonement. She knew she wasn’t the prettiest girl, her face was a little crooked from a childhood accident, but she’d learned her way around a body in her twenties. Enough to size people up. 

It was Friday. That didn’t mean a lot anymore, not since she started working from home. She picked at some leftover pizza and found a Red Bull in the back of her fridge. It would take almost an hour and a half on the subway to get to the girl’s apartment. 


On the subway she thought about him. Well, of course she thought about him. She also thought about him while lying in bed for hours at a time, staring at the wall and letting her mind go blank with terror. She thought about him in a used bookstore seeing the book he had recommended to her about the brutality of the pharmaceutical industry. She thought about him when she was on a date and the other person said something funny and she wanted to tell him. That was out of the question. He wasn’t magnificent. Not in retrospect. But that only made it harder somehow. 

Across from her, a small man was balancing a carton of eggs on top of a large manila envelope. He was giving the biggest dopey smile, listening to a song Carter could not hear. 

She was tired of claiming lovers who would not claim her. People whose politics went out the window when she asked to meet the parents. She was never rolled out on the internet like a glamorous girl to behold. If she fucked someone she was their island. They came to her every so often to see how much she changed, how much they could have with her if they did, one day, choose her. 

The train stopped abruptly. The lights went out. The man across from her smiled, nodding along to some imperceptible music.


How’s it going?” 

Win was shorter than she imagined. The apartment door was plastered with posters and flags. Still, she was less excitable in person than Carter had expected. Her apartment was nice, sparse enough to remind Carter of her own early days in New York but not too empty. She intuited the presence of a plant mom roommate. The living room was quiet, a few marooned art books, succulents, and spider plants hid how little furniture there really was. Barred windows opened onto more barred windows. 

“I just got home from work so I’m sorry it’s a little messy—do you want a beer or anything?” 

“Sure,” Carter said. The Red Bull wasn’t giving her what she needed.

Win was wearing a white camisole without a bra and tight jeans. A thin gold heart necklace dangled over the white fabric. She wasn’t wearing any earrings. 

“Do you want me to pierce your ears?” 

Win flinched coming back from the fridge.  “Right now?” 

“No.” Carter shrugged. 

Win smiled and moved towards a small hallway overflowing with cleaning supplies and damp piles of clothes. 

“I think my roommate’s still at work,” she said in place of an apology.  

Slowly they crept through the mess to the girl’s room. 

“That’s my bookshelf,” she said half-heartedly on the way. “That’s the bathroom.” Carter nodded, respecting the ritualistic pre-erotic tour. As the door closed behind them, she pushed Win lightly against the door and smiled. 

“Hi,” Win said. She looked down at her feet and swayed her pelvis lightly in the air as an invitation. 

“Hi,” Carter said, her hips grinding gently against Win’s. She didn’t examine the room. It was important not to think. Comparison was the failure of carnal imagination. 

“Are you gonna kiss or just stand there looking at me?” Win taunted. So she was a bit of a brat. It surprised Carter that she knew what she wanted. Her tongue found Win’s with force as she pressed the girl into the door. 

They tumbled across the room onto the mattress covered in mint green sheets, sweat dampening the bed. She unzipped Win’s pants and tore off her camisole, throwing everything on the floor. Win rose up on Carter’s knees to tear off her black t-shirt and fumble with her bra. 

Win went down on Carter with a cherubic face, looking up with wide hazel eyes. She had clearly smoked a joint before Carter got there. The room reeked. At least it wasn’t her first time. Carter let herself sink into the feeling and close her eyes. 

She went through the motions. After letting Win suck her off, she pushed the girl down and fingered her, eating her out until she came. It was routine now. Having sex like this, that she knew would be easy, the kind she knew how to perform like surgery, just a body on a body. Win wanted to go down on her again so she let her, though she didn’t think she’d get hard again, much less cum. 

Carter thought of the ex, tossing scallions in the hissing pan before moving in for a kiss. Or balancing a cup of coffee on his head in the subway station as she waited to get denied for bottom surgery. Or lying in bed hand in hand as he dozed for a few hours longer than her. Or going down on her. Like Win was now. 

It was brutal. She wanted the ex to slide off her body, to shed him like an old self. The ex would’ve realized she was dissociating before she did. He would’ve gently tucked her hair behind her ear and made a joke. Win was a little too serious for that. It wasn’t her fault, she was looking for a mentor in a strap. It was usually something Carter could at least give the illusion of providing. 

“Can you hear me?” 

Win’s words lapped the shore. Little ghosts of whispers turning into conscious chatter. 

“What?” Carter mumbled, realizing she was frozen, still on her knees looking down at Win.

“Are you okay?” 

“I’m fine.” 

“You haven’t moved in a sec—I was trying to check in but—” 

“I’m fine.” 

Carter let herself collapse against the wall. At least Win had finished. She couldn’t remember much about the past hour, other than licking a wet reward off Win’s stomach before blacking out. 

Win got off the bed and grabbed a smelly towel from the hamper. She turned off the tinny house music on her laptop. 

“Is it ok if I crash here?” Carter didn’t want to navigate the late night subway commute. 

“Of course.”  

“I’m gonna use your bathroom.” 

Win smiled and let her hands run through Carter’s hair, still dazed. 


Real sluts keep toothbrushes and estradiol in their purses. Luckily, Carter was a real slut. On the way to the bathroom, she perused the girl’s bookshelf absentmindedly. It was all the usual stuff—books by Canadian trans women, Runaway by Alice Munro, crumbling Playboys. Carter looked in the mirror and felt old. She brushed at the moisture under her left eye and stared vacantly for long enough to recompose the void. 


In the morning Win made coffee and poured two bowls of Cocoa Puffs. Then she sliced a banana and offered one to Carter.

“For the cereal.” 

“I’ll pass.” 

Win set the bowl down on the sea blue table and cut the banana over her cereal before heading to the fridge for milk. The morning light cut across her bare back. Carter wanted to take Win’s bra off again and suckle her until it was time to go. Instead she poured the milk over her cereal. The coffee mugs were cute, little farm animals with big eyes. 

“Good cereal scrapes the rough of your mouth,” Win said. 

“I agree.” 

She didn’t have as much shame as Carter expected. 

“What are you up to today?” 

Win wanted her to stay, she realized. To go again. 

“I have work and then I’m going out with a friend.” 

There was no friend. 

“Nice,” Win said as she shoveled Cocoa puffs into her mouth like a wolf. “I’m going to bike to Riis.” 


“My sister just got a rabbit too so I may go meet him.” 

It was hard to track with someone so sweet. Win’s voice lilted like a hothouse flower. It wasn’t an entirely unpleasant experience. 

“He looks really cute from the pictures. She named him …”

Carter remembered her ex saying every trans guy had some sort of weird pet. Well, the pet wasn’t weird so much as the attachment to the pet. One of her ex’s friends had a rabbit named Charlie. The rabbit always seemed scared, hopping away whenever someone tried to scoop him up. She missed her ex’s cat. On Christmas, she’d woken up with the small shuddering sweetie snuggling against her body. Her ex had left for the airport already, so she snapped a picture for him. “Your two girls,” she typed before thinking better of it. 

Win was pouring herself another cup of coffee. 

“You’re really quiet.” 

“I’m not a morning girl.” 

Neither of them made a move for a minute. Carter could hear other people stirring in the house, trying to keep quiet. She wondered what the girl’s roommates were like. 

“No, you’re just a girl who’s seen some shit,” Win said. She shifted in her chair. Their ritual was complete. There was nothing more to do if Carter couldn’t summon the energy to play nice. 

They ate in silence for a few minutes. Neither of them wanted to prolong the encounter but neither wanted to be the first to call it. Carter was always the one who had to call it. Like with the ex. She was the one who had to put her foot down, had to admit she was just his accessory, nothing more. 

But that wasn’t true. At least not fully. Otherwise she wouldn’t feel so sad. 

“I guess I should head out,” Carter said.

The girl nodded politely and walked her out. It was quiet outside. Birds were chirping and as the hangovers walked home. The pavement smelled more gnarly than usual, maybe it was trash day. 

Carter spent a few minutes exorcizing her depression gods and started walking. Sometimes it was necessary to walk a great distance and listen to ambient drones crashing. She wanted to make good choices. That night she didn’t. She made the mistake of staying out all day and landing at a bar after eating half a bodega sandwich for dinner. As she thought of Win biking to Riis and petting a rabbit, Carter found herself walking to her ex’s place. Past the Surf N Turf restaurant under the train and landing in front of his little house with the bay window. His perfect red-and-black cat was purring in the window as she drunkenly walked into the yard and put her hand on the window. 

If she had stayed a few seconds longer, she would’ve seen him open the curtains, peer out into the darkness and take a deep breath. But by then she was already half-way down the block, trying to wipe the tears from her face without smudging her mascara.

Grace Byron is a writer from the Midwest based in Queens. Her writing has appeared in The Cut, Vogue, Bookforum, The Nation, and other outlets. Find her @emotrophywife.