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Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live by Sacha Lamb

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Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live by Sacha Lamb
Published 8/22/2017

Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live

Avi comes across these foreboding words scrawled on the bathroom mirror, but what do they mean? Is this a curse, a prediction, or a threat from Avi’s emboldened bullies? And how to they know his real name when he hasn’t even told his mother yet?

Then there is Ian—the cool new guy at school, who is suddenly paying attention to Avi. Ian is just like Avi, but he is also all sunshine, optimism, and magic. All the things that Avi doesn’t know how to deal with…yet.

A romantic, #ownvoices fairy tale for trans boys.

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Avi Cantor has six months to live. It’s scrawled on the bathroom mirror in what looks like eyeliner pencil. Maybe the message should scare me, but I’m more worried about how they knew the name I haven’t even told my mother yet. I go over and scrub the Avi off with the end of my sleeve, leaving greasy smudges of pigment. Then I stand there and take in the rest of the message. Six months to live. If it’s meant as an intimidation tactic, if it’s coming from the people who push me around because they can sense that something about me doesn’t fit, then six months is an awfully long time to give me. It would have been better to leave the timeline vague, let me look over my shoulder the whole school year waiting for whatever they plan to do to me.

On the other hand, if they’re genuinely planning to murder me by the end of the year, maybe I should be frightened.

But I’m not. I’m just numb. I leave the rest of the message on the mirror and find another bathroom.

 

By lunchtime the next day I’m sure the message was left in other places. People keep whispering and looking at me with big, hungry eyes. I hate to think of all these people knowing my secret–secret identity–and so I tell myself they saw Cantor and made an educated guess. At lunch a girl who only ever looks at me when she wants to demolish whatever I said in class asks if I have “cancer, or something.” I ask if she’ll feel bad if I tell her yes. She looks blank for a second and then shrugs.

I don’t ask her what she’s heard. I don’t want the details. I tell myself it will have blown over by the end of the week. The girl takes her tray elsewhere.

 

I’m sick of it by Friday. People have started passing me notes in class with their condolences. I try to ignore it, because it’s a stupid joke, the latest in a long series of stupid jokes, and I don’t get how they can find it entertaining, but I’m beginning to wonder. What if they noticed that I don’t react anymore, and they want to really hurt me? I used to be scared all the time, until scared turned into normal and then normal meant feeling nothing at all. But what if this time they do something my mom will notice? She doesn’t have time to be worried about me.

Planning an actual murder would be too much effort, right? It’s not as if I’ve ever done anything to any of them. My list of sins is very short, comprising entirely things I can’t do anything about.

Looks just brown enough that you’re not sure where he’s from. Skips school for weird holidays even though his mom has to work all the time, so he just sits in his room, alone, and eats frozen food from the kosher section. Dresses like a boy, which is a problem, because none of us have any imagination.

It doesn’t seem like enough to kill somebody.

 

I’m walking through the woods by the reservoir, my shortcut home, when I hear footsteps behind me. Not a jogger or a dog-walker. It’s the sound of someone trying to catch up.

I let my mind flicker through a few images of myself, dead and buried in the woods. All of my classmates saying yes, they’re so, so sorry, they miss me so much. Even though the fact that none of them asked about names means probably none of them remember what mine is supposed to be, aside from an A and an I and a Cantor.

I turn and see Ian Keane, looking out of breath and concerned. I’ve never talked to Ian, because he has never teased me. We don’t run in the same circles. We have maybe one class together, and we sit nowhere close. Ian is an athlete, but I can’t remember which sport. He’s wearing shorts even though it’s cold and his legs look tanned and hairless. Maybe he swims?

“Avi,” he says. “Wait up.”

I don’t. He shouldn’t even know that name, so why should I answer to it? I haven’t told anyone. But if I tell him that, he’ll know it bothers me. I cut him with my eyes and keep walking.

But Ian’s legs are longer than mine, and he catches up easily, slowing to keep pace once he has.

“Hey,” he says. “I just wanted to ask how you’re doing.”

“Why?” I glare at him. Up close, I can see that his ear used to be pierced. It doesn’t make sense with the rest of him. I blink at the scar and forget what I was going to say.

“Because,” he says. He’s still catching his breath. How far did he run after me? “Because everyone’s been talking about you all week, and I’m worried maybe you’re not ok.”

“I’m not sick,” I tell him. “It’s some joke. It’s normal.”

He shakes his head. “No.”

What does he know? I scowl and turn away again.

“I mean, it’s not fair to you,” he says. “People shouldn’t joke about that stuff.”

It’s not worth pointing out that they do anyway.

“Hey,” he says. “Come do homework with me? I’ll buy you a coffee.”

I look up at him again, suspicious. I can’t see anything in his face but that wide-eyed concern, but people have been looking at me like that for days. It’s all fake. I’m surprised they got Ian into it, but maybe it’s a rite of passage. He just moved here last year and maybe he doesn’t totally fit in.

“I promise it’s not a trick, or anything.” He holds out his hands, palms up, empty. Unarmed. “I just think you should have someone–a friend.”

I wonder if Ian is gay. I wonder if he is being bullied. The earring. The legs. The bright, open face. He looks like somebody who’d be easy to hurt. I wonder if he is going to hand me over in exchange for being left alone. I imagine a group of shadowy ringleaders, even though I know it’s more likely that there aren’t any, that everyone just latches on spontaneously to all the parts of me that don’t fit.

“Please, Avi,” Ian says. “Please trust me. Listen, I’ll tell you a secret if you trust me.”

Ian digs in his pocket and retrieves something. A little rectangle of plastic. A driver’s license. He stops me with a hand on my shoulder and holds it up in front of my face, so I take it out of instinct.

I look at the card. I read it twice, and then I look up at his face. Scars on both earlobes, I can see now that we’re facing each other. He has long eyelashes. He’s biting his lip, waiting for my reaction.

“Why would you show me that?” I ask. I don’t give him back his license. I put it in my pocket, like I’m holding it hostage. I think Ian knows I wouldn’t use it, though. That’s why he came after me.

“Because I think maybe you’re the same,” he says. “I mean, you responded to Avi. I looked that up and it said it’s a boy’s name. Like, is it short for Abraham? You’re an old man.”

I don’t say anything. When did he look up my name, and why? How does he even know my name? I want to scream.

“Yeah,” he says. “You’re definitely an old man, I mean, look at that face, dude.”

I flip him off and turn away, keep walking. “I can’t drink coffee. Get me something else.”

 

Ian takes me to a cafe I’ve never been in before, because it looks expensive. It is expensive, and it makes me nervous, but he buys me a mug of hot cider and makes me sit down and then he comes back with a collection of pastries. I wonder if he is thinking of me as a wild animal, a creature he can tame with food.

I’m not sure he’s wrong, if he is.

“How did you know my name?” I finally ask him, when he sits down. He has a lot of nervous energy, Ian. When he’s not taking a sip from his coffee he’s rearranging the packets of sugar or folding his napkin over and over. He reminds me of a squirrel. I’m the one who should be nervous, I don’t tell him, but then it occurs to me that I never reacted to his secret, not really.

“Oh,” he says. He glances around the cafe, and I follow his eyes, but there’s no one here except a woman in a pencil skirt who’s working on a laptop on the other side of the room. Ian sort of hunches his shoulders to shut her out when she glances up at us. “Just–I heard it, I guess. Somebody told me.”

“I haven’t told anyone.”

“Don’t look at me like that!” He raises his empty hands again. “I promise I didn’t leave those notes or anything.”

“I know you probably don’t pay attention in class,” I tell him, “But in class I’m called April. So what gives?”

“Don’t ask me. I didn’t start it, I promise.”

“You’re the one who wanted to talk to me,” I remind him.

“It’s just, Avi Cantor,” he says. “It had to be you, right?”

Sure. It had to be. If anyone at our school is doomed, it had to be me, right?

“Right,” I say, twisting the word around to cut him.

“So, I’m right, though, aren’t I? That makes us the same,” he says. “We should be friends.”

The same. Sure. You, with your freckles and your bright open eyes that your mom probably says are hazel or even green even though they’re basically just brown. You, a team player. You, going by Ian, and getting away with it.

“Whatever,” I tell him. “We can be friends if you know how to do algebra.”

 

Ian sticks to me like a newly-adopted puppy. I ask him why he’s not scared that I’m contagious. Doesn’t he worry that if people see us together, they’ll start to notice the things that made him look at me and think maybe we were the same?

He says he’s not worried. He thinks him hanging out with me will protect me. He doesn’t think he could ever be a target like me. I don’t know how he can be so confident. If our positions were reversed, I’d stay a mile away from him.

 

On Wednesday he brings me back to his house. He kicks off his shoes by the door and yells “Mom!” and a woman yells back “Which one?”

“Whichever!” Ian takes my hand and leads me through a hallway painted a perfect shade of cream and hung with pieces of art like I’ve only seen in museums. Who are these people? “Mom, I brought Avi.”

I suppose it makes sense that he would have told his parents about me. I should have probably told my mom about him, but I never see her. She’s asleep while I’m at school, and at work when I’m not. I’m not sure when was the last time we had a real conversation.

Ian’s mom, whichever, is in her bright, polished kitchen, chopping cucumbers. She’s barefoot and wearing a long skirt. She has dark curly hair and she’s browner than I am. I mean, she looks nothing like Ian.

“Avi!” She swoops down and kisses me, left cheek, right cheek. “We’ve heard so much about you!”

“This is my mom number one,” Ian says, stealing a slice of cucumber. “Rosa.”

I feel very small and out of place in this house, like a rat that has somehow snuck into a high-end hotel. Ian’s house is made of sunshine, Ian’s mother is made of sunshine, Ian is made of sunshine. What am I doing here?

“Number two mom and my sister are out somewhere, I guess,” Ian says.

“She needs a dress for her recital,” says number one mom Rosa. Because these are the kind of people who have recitals. What am I doing here?

“You ok?” Ian says, squeezing my hand, but he doesn’t wait for a response. “We were going to do homework. Can he stay for dinner?”

I want to say, no, I can’t. I don’t belong here. But Rosa says yes, so I stay for dinner.

Neither of them trips up for even a second over the pronoun. Neither do mom number two or Ian’s impossibly beautiful African-American sister, who plays the violin. They just act like it’s normal, like a boy can be any old shape he wants and all they see when they look at him is the boy that he is.

After dinner, Rosa burns some herbs in a bronze bowl and tells me it’s a blessing. To keep the demons away. I didn’t realize I had demons.

 

People at school haven’t given up on the joke. Avi Cantor has six months to live. Someone leaves a calendar on my locker, counting down the days. Ian puts it in his backpack and burns it after school, on the concrete retaining wall by the reservoir.

“A Viking funeral,” he says. “Don’t tell my moms. They don’t know I have a lighter.”

“This girl asked me today how come I’m hanging out with you, if I’m a lesbian,” I tell him. “And I’m pretty sure they’ve decided it’s AIDS.”

He looks at me. His eyes are deep, deep, deep. Why did I think he was so easy to read, the first time I met him?

“Don’t ask if I’m ok,” I tell him, sharply.

He doesn’t. He just looks at me with those big sad eyes for a long time, and then he puts his hand down next to mine on the concrete, so our fingers are touching. No hesitation, like that’s just where both our hands belong.

We sit there for a long time, and no one says anything. Ian’s fingers are warmer than mine. I can feel the warmth creeping up my arm, bit by bit, until if I close my eyes I can imagine it’s not just our hands touching, and it scares me, but it feels good, also.

“Someday, though,” he says, when it’s been long enough to almost forget what we were talking about. “You will be ok, someday.”

It scares me that I want to believe him.

 

 

His mom, Alice, tries to give me some of his old clothes, when he’s out of the room. I think she noticed the tear on my jeans that I keep picking at. I think she knows I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans for two weeks. I wonder if she and Rosa talk about me, at night, when they’re in bed together in that huge, king-sized bed with so many blankets and pillows it looks like you could drown in them, in the room that smells like a perfume Ian tells me is linden flower.

I wonder if they talk about how their son picked me up out of nowhere, and now I’m here all the time. I wonder if they ask each other what my home life is like, why I never have to call a parent to ask for permission for anything, ever. I wonder if when they keep refilling my plate without asking, it’s on purpose. I wonder if they want to adopt me, add me to their collection of mismatched children.

“I can’t wear my boyfriend’s clothes at school,” I tell her. “People will make fun of me.”

Her eyes get big, I think because until I said boyfriend even I didn’t know that’s what we were. Then her eyes get sad. Everyone in his family has such sad eyes.

I’m not a stray kitten, I want to tell her, but I don’t want to hurt her feelings. I look down at the granite counter-top and when she asks what to make for dinner I tell her I can’t eat spicy food and I’m lactose intolerant and also, if I had my way, you know, in an ideal world, I wish I could keep kosher.

Their whole family are vegetarians, anyway. It’s not a problem.

Apparently nothing I do is a problem for them. I’m not sure I like it. It makes me feel unsettled, like I don’t quite know what shape I am anymore.

 

 

The kids at school build a little memorial service on my desk. Teddy bears, flowers, candles. Ian is horrified when I call it charming.

“Practice for your real funeral,” someone tells me. “We’re going to miss you so much.”

I don’t think he even knows who I am.

I stuff everything in my backpack and line it up on the windowsill at home. The bears make my room like a little less empty, a little less lonely.

 

“You’re so morbid, Avi,” Ian says, when I tell him so later when we are hanging out at the reservoir .

“Literally,” I tell him. “Morbid means dying.”

“Shut up. You’re not dying. I put a magic spell on you so can never die.”

I know he’s joking, but I tell him, half-serious, “I’d like it better if you put a magic spell on everybody else and made them die.”

“I can’t,” he says, like he’s given it real thought. “Avi, that would be terrible. I can’t.”

“God, I know. I was joking.” I wasn’t. “I know magic isn’t real.”

Ian chews on his lip for a minute, like he’s thinking through something really difficult. And then he says, with deep conviction, almost angry at me, “Magic is real.”

“So help me make a curse, maybe.”

“I can’t,” he says. “I can’t.” Like I really am asking him to do something terrible.

I like Ian so much. But I don’t understand him.

He leans over so our foreheads are touching, and he says, really quiet, “You should want to not die, Avi.”

“Everyone wants to not die,” I say, not believing it.

Ian has been chewing cinnamon gum, and this close the spicy scent makes my eyes water. It burns my mouth when he kisses me, and I pull back with a strangled scream.

“Oh my god, I’m sorry,” he says, not knowing what he’s sorry for.

“Why is your gum made of fucking chemical weapons?”

“I’m so sorry!” Now he’s laughing at me and my watery eyes.

“I’m going to push you in,” I tell him, pointing at the banks of the reservoir beneath our feet.

“It’s a public water supply. That’s a huge crime.”

“Next time just brush your teeth.”

 

There’s an extra month in the Hebrew calendar this year, and the High Holy Days don’t come until October, and it’s cold. Ian asks me about Rosh Hashanah, the week before. Do you have plans? I never talk about my family. I can tell from the way he looks at me that he’s worried he isn’t allowed to ask.

I have plans. My plan is to listen to Barbra Streisand on the retaining wall, and maybe let myself tip over, disappear into the water, poison the whole town. Avi Cantor has six months to live. It’s more like five, now. Inscribe us in the book of life. Imagine if I took that decision out of God’s hands.

I don’t tell Ian any of that. I say, “No plans. I mean, I’m skipping school. That’s it. No plans.”

“Come over?”

He skips class with me. His mom, Rosa, makes apple cake. His sister, Gabriella, who I like because she never tries to make eye contact with me, rattles off a bunch of facts about apple-growing, and I reach out to give her a gentle high-five, because I know if she went to our school, people would pick on her, and Ian’s sunny confidence wouldn’t stand up to the contagion of our combined not fitting. Gabriella’s room is full of potted plants and it looks like a jungle. Somewhere in there, Ian tells me, she has a terrarium full of frogs. I’ve never been in there, because her room is off-limits to boys.

It’s magic, their house. The way they’re all obsessed. Rosa with her cooking. Alice and Gabriella with their music, Gabriella’s plants and frogs. If I believed in magic, I’d believe that they have it.

I wish I had the energy to be obsessed with something.

 

I come home late in the morning, on the second day of Rosh HaShanah, and mom is at the kitchen table, drinking coffee.

“Where were you?” she asks me. Her eyes are tired. Her eyes are always tired. Both of us, we have these smudges of shadow, like bruises. Ian tells me in the right light it looks like it’s on purpose.

“I stayed over with somebody.” I sit, pull one knee to my chest. “You didn’t text me.”

She shrugs. “I hoped you were having fun somewhere. I told the school you had a holiday.”

I forgot to ask, beforehand. Usually I just skip, and let them think I’m a delinquent. They think that anyway.

“You’ve been out a lot,” she says.

I hadn’t realized that she’d noticed.

 

I plug in my headphones and walk down to the reservoir. Barbra Streisand wails in my ears. I sit on the retaining wall and the cold from the concrete creeps into my bones. Mom always says if you sit on the cold ground, you’ll never have kids. I wish, I think. I wish. I wish curses were that easy.

I take out a notebook that’s supposed to be for homework, and I write down everything I haven’t told my mother. At least, everything good. Everything that I hope won’t upset her.

 

Ian comes by after school, walking a dog. I’m confused, because he doesn’t have a dog.

“Picking up more strays?” I ask him.

“Jesus, Avi, you look frozen,” he says. “It’s my neighbor’s, I get paid ten bucks a walk, it’s a total scam. You weren’t in school. I thought you said you’d be back today.”

“I changed my mind. It’s a two-day holiday. I was with my mom.”

“Let’s go get something hot,” he says. “You’re shivering.”

“You’re shivering,” I tell him, even though he isn’t, even though he’s wearing shorts. “Your mom is shivering.”

“In sympathy for you, probably,” he says. The dog jumps up and licks me behind my ear. I shudder and push it away.

“Do you just not like kisses?” Ian asks, tugging on the leash, looking nervous. Since his cinnamon gum made me cry the first time, he has limited himself to hand-holding and playing with my hair. I think he thinks if he touches me wrong, I’ll break. I think he’s right, but I kind of want to, anyway.

I haven’t tried to kiss him, because I’m convinced if I did, it would look sarcastic somehow. I wouldn’t know what expression to use, and he’d think I was making fun of him. I don’t want my face to hurt his feelings.

“I like kisses fine,” I tell him. “Just not from dogs, or mouths full of chemical weapons.”

He opens his mouth wide, like, look, it’s empty. Shuts it. Shifts from foot to foot a little, awkward.

“I honestly thought it would be better,” he says. “I mean, clean, you know?”

I like that he did it on purpose. I like that he fucked it up. I like that he apparently didn’t care if my mouth was clean or not.

“Teshuvah,” I tell him, getting to my feet and brushing gravel off my jeans. “Today is all about teshuvah, repentance. There’s three steps to teshuvah. You apologize. You mend your ways. You do a better job next time.” I put my headphones over his shoulders. “Here’s a song about being really sorry, for you.”

“You’re so weird, Avi,” he says, like it’s a gift I’ve given him.

 

We sit on his bed and watch cartoons. Rosa made us tea, and there are cookies. It’s like living in an alternate universe.

“What were you doing out there, anyway?” Ian says, out of nowhere.

I tell him I was contemplating suicide, and he tells me I’m never allowed to make a joke again. I wasn’t joking, but I pretend like I was, because I don’t want to upset him.

This time when he kisses me it’s rosehips and chocolate, and nobody cries.

 

I leave my note for mom on the kitchen table. I give her the number for Ian’s house, in case she wants to make sure. I’m staying over again.

His moms don’t seem to mind having me on a school night. They don’t mind me staying in his room, even. In his bed. I don’t know what to think of the idea that they’re ok with all the things we aren’t actually doing. Of the idea that maybe they’d be less ok with it if they didn’t think I need looking after.

Ian throws his shirt on the closet floor and struggles out of his binder. “Ohhh, my god.” He hates being constricted, but he passes so well when he’s wearing it, he can’t get away with not. When he’s at home he skins himself as soon as possible. He’ll even go down to eat in front of his family in nothing but a tank top. I can’t imagine feeling that comfortable, but I know now that he isn’t all confidence. In a way, I think I’m better off, not knowing how comfortable feels, having nothing to contrast against the discomfort of being looked at in public.

My apartment is always too hot, and there’s no point in blankets. Ian’s house is kept cool enough that we can sleep together under a down comforter and it feels like cozy, not like dying. I burrow under the covers and only then take off my shirt. I’ve borrowed a pair of his sweatpants, too tight at the hip and too long in the legs, but the shirts he likes won’t fit me.

Maybe his moms know all we do is kiss and hold hands under the covers and kick each other in our sleep. Maybe they know Ian’s never seen me with my clothes off. Maybe he even told them. I can imagine the conversation. Rosa telling him not to pressure me. Ian saying he likes me in my clothes anyway, he understands. Trying it out with his moms before he tries it on me.

“You’re going to break a rib, though,” he tells me, whispers it like it’s a secret. His breath stirs the hair that’s fallen over my forehead. “You’re not supposed to bind while you’re sleeping.”

“That’s fine,” I tell him. “I’ve only got like five months to live.”

He grabs my hand and smacks me in the face with it. “What did I tell you about jokes?”

I sleep with my head on his shoulder and I dream that I’m on a soft, green planet where no one exists who can hurt me.

 

My mom texts me in the middle of the night. I like that you chose your grandfather’s name.

I sit on Ian’s windowsill in the moonlight. I can feel a layer of warmth, Ian’s and my shared body heat, shielding me from the cold night sky. I love you, I text my mom.

She responds immediately. Go to sleep, Avi.

 

On the Friday after Yom Kippur, someone introduces the idea that Ian has gotten me pregnant, or else given me an STD that’s going to kill me. I think they’ve forgotten that we didn’t know each other until after the rumor started. I have closer to four months, now. I can’t believe they’re not sick of it yet.

I’m sick of it. I feel queasy all day, avoid Ian in the hallways, nearly throw up in the same bathroom where I saw the message. I tell myself I’m imagining the smudges of eyeliner still on the mirror. I tell myself you can’t get morning sickness just from a rumor, and holding hands.

Mom and I make shabbat, because she has a shift off, for once. I don’t check my phone, because I know Ian will be texting, all worried about me, and I want to pretend he has no reason to worry.

Mom doesn’t ask if I’m ok. She never does, because if she asks, then I’ll have to ask, and she’ll have to answer.

 

“I can’t believe they’re not over it yet,” Ian says, slamming his locker. The noise echoes down the hallway, and it makes me flinch. “Like, you know how many memes have been born and died on the Internet since–you’d think they’d be over it.”

“They’ll get over it when I’m dead,” I tell him, faking cheerful, and he makes a strangling motion at me with both hands. If you make one more joke about dying, I’ll kill you.

I grin at him and point my fingers. Bang, bang. You’re right, it’s a joke. Of course.

“I’m telling them to stop,” he says.

As if that’s not the worst idea in the world.

 

At lunch, someone I barely recognize comes up to me. “You know he started it, right?”

If I blink and move backwards a little, his face comes into focus. He’s on the track team with Ian. Ian has described him as, I quote, a massive douchehole, which is not the kind of language Rosa and Alice encourage in their pristine art gallery of a home.

“Hi, Bryce,” I say. “How’s it going.”

“Ian,” he says. “You know it’s him who started it, right? So if it’s such a big deal to you, why don’t you complain to him.”

I didn’t complain to you, either, douchehole. “I’ll take that into consideration.”

“Jesus,” he spits. “You’re such a freak.”

I turn up Ofra Haza in my headphones and ignore everyone else who tries to talk to me.

 

“So that guy Bryce decided to talk to me today.”

Ian kicks a handful of leaves into the air. “Bryce! That douchebag!”

“Guess what he wanted me to know.”

He stops, just for a second, and I realize that he has guessed.

Which means it was true.

“What am I exactly?” I ask him. “Am I, like, a social experiment?”

“You’re my boyfriend.”

“Yeah? So you didn’t start a rumor that I’m going to die and then use it as a weird excuse to talk to me?”

“I mean–”

“That’s a yes,” I snap. “If it wasn’t a yes, you’d have said no.”

“Avi–”

I flip him off and keep walking. He doesn’t follow me.

 

Text messages.

I’m sorry! 🙁 🙁 🙁

Plz don’t ignore me I can explain! 🙁

Aviiiiiii

Text message.

i m not a stray kitten

On the third day I’m not at school, Ian knocks on the door of our apartment. Mom and I are eating quesadillas. There was nothing to eat at home but sour cream and old cheese, turning hard in the drawer. My dad used to do all the cooking, before he decided he hates us. I thought if I got tortillas it would be easy. I’ve had them at Ian’s house. But the taste makes me think of him, and I’m angry all over again.

I open the door and don’t even bother to glare, just stare at him, dead-eyed.

“What’s that?” he says, tapping the mezuzah with his fingertip.

“Are you, like, planning to murder me?” I ask. “Do you need a human sacrifice to maintain your perfect fucking family life?”

“Avraham,” mom says, behind me, as if she’s been saying it that way my entire life. The same tired tone she used to use for April. She doesn’t mind if I swear in front of her, but it bothers her in front of guests. I feel bad immediately, for embarrassing her, and wish I knew better words to be angry with.

My mother has never met Ian. These are not the ideal circumstances to introduce them.

Please, Avi,” he says. “I’ll buy you something that’s not coffee.”

 

It starts to snow on the way into town. Ian spreads his arms and skips a little and then stops, self-conscious, correcting himself to a more masculine posture. He reaches for my hand and I elbow him in the ribs. He doesn’t try again.

 

He tells me it was an accident. He was trying to get them to stop. Stop being so nasty to her, he said. She’s only got six months to live.

But why, I want to know. Why would you say that. And how come they knew my name.

“I had a dream,” he says. “It was on my mind. I was worried about you. It just slipped out.”

I stare at him. He fidgets with his mug of coffee. The mugs they give you here are real ceramic. Heavy. They feel satisfying in your hand, like breaking one would mean something.

I don’t think Ian needs to be drinking coffee.

“It’s–you’re not going to believe me,” he says. His voice is tiny. I’m so used to Ian being the loud one, the solid one, the one who’s in control.

“I don’t believe you already,” I tell him.

“You’re eating the cake I got you, though.” He tries to smile. “That’s a good sign, right?”

The smile withers off his face when I meet his eyes.

“Ok,” he says. “I’m sorry. It’s weird, though. It’s this weird thing in my family.”

“What? Spreading rumors and then pretending to be all nicey-nice? What are you, like a cult? Have you been brainwashing me? Were there drugs in your mom’s Israeli salad? Those herbs she’s always burning?”

“No! No, I told you, I didn’t mean it, I was trying to fix things. But you really are going to die, Avi. I had a dream. Like a prophetic dream. So I’m trying to change your future. And anyway, you seemed lonely. I wanted to talk to you. I thought maybe we were the same, you know? And I was right, and I’m so glad.”

“We’re not the same,” I tell him. “We’re not the same at all.”

I shove my chair back and leave, not even caring that everyone else in the cafe, all these people with their four-dollar pastries and six-dollar drinks, the woman with the laptop and the girls with the fleece boots and the guy with the beard, all of them are staring at me, probably wondering who brought this wild animal into their little oasis of warmth and light and good manners.

 

He sends me a word document. It’s instructions for summoning a demon. He says he tried it, and the demon told him to fuck off. He says maybe if I try, she’ll show up, and she can talk to me, and then I’ll believe him.

I tell myself I’m doing it to be passive-aggressive. That if I go and sit at a crossroads in the middle of the night, in the snow, then maybe I’ll get sick, maybe I’ll even die, and then he’ll be sorry.

I tell myself it isn’t because if I believe in any kind of magic, it’s got to be the kind that hurts.

 

It seems right to bring a candle. It seems un-Jewish to summon a demon, but my options for ritual trappings are limited. I dig the havdalah candle out of the drawer where it’s been gathering dust since last time we made havdalah, before my dad left. I find Ian’s lighter in my sock drawer, where I hide the things I don’t want mom to know I’m keeping. I go to the crossroads.

The thing about a crossroads. It’s just an intersection, that’s what we call it now. I go to the one by the cafe, where Ian always takes me for cider. At the middle of that intersection, at the crossroads, there’s a tiny island of withered grass and a bench where no one ever sits, because who wants to sit in the middle of traffic?

I sit there now and light my candle, hunching over to protect it from the wind. Wax drips onto my fingers and snow collects in my hair, on my shoes, on the road around me. There’s not much traffic, because of the snow, and everything sounds hushed. I don’t have a real winter coat, and I’m shivering. I sit and stare at the candle and it occurs to me that I don’t know if there are words one is supposed to say to summon a demon. Ian’s instructions have gone out of my head. If I try to picture the file he sent me, all I see is the look on his face when I told him we’re not the same.

I whisper the only word I know for sure is magic. Please.

Please, I just want to know.

For a minute, there’s nothing. Somebody crawls by in their car behind me, cautious on the slushy pavement. My candle-flame shudders. I stare at it until I imagine myself as part of it, insubstantial, pouring heat out into the universe, running out of time.

And then there’s a woman. Between one blink and the next, she’s there, or maybe I dozed off, drowsy with cold. She’s wearing pumps, bare-legged. That’s the first thing I notice, because I’m staring at the candle, held over my knees. She’s older than my mom, I think, but less tired. She looks trim, professional. She doesn’t have a winter coat either, but she doesn’t look cold. She’s frowning at me, not like she’s angry, but like she doesn’t know what to do with me. It’s almost like the look Ian has when he doesn’t understand why I’m doing something that he knows should hurt.

My lashes feel heavy, wet. I’m not sure if it’s snowmelt or tears. “Are you the–” I don’t want to call her demon to her face, not when that face is wearing such a familiar expression of troubled concern. The weird thing is, I recognize her. She’s the laptop lady. The one who’s always halfway watching us in the cafe, every time Ian decides to treat me to expensive cookies. “Are you the person in charge of the crossroads? The lady with the magic?”

“Baby, you look cold,” she says. “If we’re going to have a conversation, don’t you think we’d better do it inside?”

I’m still staring as she reaches down and snuffs my candle with her fingertips, with not even a flinch.

 

We sit in the cafe. It wasn’t open a minute ago, and now it is. There’s no one behind the counter, but she buys us drinks anyway, or at least, drinks appear in her hands. She gives me a hot cider and a warmed-up chocolate croissant and she won’t speak to me until I’ve eaten it. I wonder if I should mistrust an offer of food and drink, but my hands are cold and I feel so, so empty inside and the food helps, a little, warmth and sweetness fooling at least part of me into thinking it’s safe.

She has black tea, and she stirs three packets of sugar into it with a tiny spoon, tearing the packets neatly, carefully. In the lights I can see that her lipstick is this plum color that Ian sometimes wears on his nails, at home where no one can see. He acts all confident, but he still has secrets. Parts of himself he feels he has to shut away. As if the ease with which he passes makes it harder for him to break trivial boundaries.

“So, what is it?” The woman asks, finally, when I’ve eaten every crumb of pastry and the snow has melted into little drops of dew on my shoes and on my shoulders. “What kind of magic were you looking for? You’re awfully young. I should tell you, you’re too young for curses. You want to wait until you’re older, so you know who really deserves them. Don’t use yourself up too quickly.”

“I’m not sure I get to be older,” I tell her. Suddenly, all at once, I believe it. “My boyfriend–he didn’t tell me, but I found out he had a dream, like–a real dream, you know, like a prophecy, and I’m going to die. He said–he said he asked you for something, and you said you can’t fix it.”

She looks at me a little closer now, the frown returning. I pick candle-wax off my fingers and it leaves spots of pink where it burned me.

“I don’t do those gift-of-the-magi deals,” she says. “Imagine if he’d given up his life for you. So romantic, right? Like Romeo and Juliet. Or, well, Mercutio and Romeo, I suppose, in your case.”

The microscopic tension in my chest from the word Juliet dissolves into relief. Of course she’d know, I tell myself. She’s magic. But you expect demons to be cruel, don’t you?

“But no,” she continues, “No, if he gave himself for you, you’d be here in no time crying for me to give him back. They’re not worth it, deals like that. No one wins when you make those kinds of wishes.”

“Is–” My mouth is dry. I lick my lips, hesitate, take a sip of cider and try again. “Is that what he wanted? To make a trade?”

“Of course.” So confident, as if the thought of Ian giving in to anything like suicide doesn’t rock my understanding on its foundations. “Of course. But do you know what I told him?”

I shake my head. It seems to me that there’s snow in my lashes again, and I dab it away with the underside of my wrist.

“I told him if he thinks his life is worth less than yours, then he’s not driving much of a bargain.”

I think about that. “That seems fair.”

“Does it?”

“I mean, it’s logical.”

She laughs a little, quietly. Shakes her head and takes a sip of tea. “So what is it you want? You want to trade your way out of dying?”

“No. Not really.” I turn my mug around in my hands. “I just wanted to understand. Like, even if it was real, even if somehow he knew I was going to die and stuff, why would he tell people. What is he thinking when he looks at me, you know?”

“Oh,” she says, a little sigh. She sits back. “Secrets. Now, there’s a magic I can sink my teeth into.”

“I don’t even necessarily want it to be magic. Just, I don’t have anyone else to talk to. I don’t want my mom to worry, she has too much going on. And I’m not ready to talk to him. So.”

She blinks at me. I’ve surprised her, again. She leans forward and brushes my hair out of my eyes, looking at me like she’s trying to read every line of my face. Her hand is warmer than I expected. I thought it would be cool, impersonal. It’s not. It feels like how mom used to touch me, before we started missing each other, before we became a pair of ghosts in a small apartment, occupying the same space but different times. It’s been a little better, recently, but we still don’t fit together quite right. Not the way we used to.

“Sweetheart, what’s your name?” the woman says.

“Am I cursed forever if I tell you?”

“No, honey, you’re not. You’re already full up with curses. But if it makes you feel better, my name is Lilit.”

I almost snort. “For serious?”

“Yes, Avi, for serious. Is there a better name for a mother of monsters?”

I stare at her. I didn’t tell her my name, except I think maybe I did, by letting my loneliness pour out of me like lost body heat, to be eaten up by the universe. I wonder if that’s how Ian figured it out, too. If holding my secret as close as I did just made it a beacon for anybody with magic eyes.

“What kind of monsters?” I ask her, finally.

“Any kind you like.”

I look down at my hands. Glance up at her, and down again. Finally I meet her eyes. “What about me? Am I a monster?”

She smiles. Shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Not yet. And you’ve already got a mother who loves you. Three of them, even. But I can give you some advice, if you need it. For free.”

“Why? Because you feel sorry for me?”

“Because your boyfriend’s family are a huge pain in my, ahem,” she coughs, delicately, into her perfectly-manicured hand. “Because I don’t want to give them any more reasons to pester me.”

“Ok. What’s your advice?”

She leans over and ruffles my hair. “Don’t die. And talk to him. He misses you.”

so what else don’t i know

Uhh aside from what? :0

aside from how theres demons & ur literly psychic or w e

Omg :0 Come over?

its 3 in the f in a m

You have a key to my house and your mom is at work what’s the PROBlem!!

 

He meets me on the front walk, so he can sneak me upstairs without me waking up his parents. Apparently, they are the problem. He takes my hand in the hallway and finds that it’s frozen, puts his hand on the back of my neck instead and decides that I am shivering. So we don’t go upstairs. He makes us tea. There are cookies.

“So is this like witch stuff?” I ask him. We’re sitting at the granite counter, on tall chairs, nursing our steaming mugs. He has given me a sweatshirt so I don’t have to sit in my soaking-wet clothes. Apparently even demons whose magic can open a cafe after midnight don’t have cars to give you a ride where you’re going.

“Huh?” he says. “What?” He blinks at me, owlish, behind the glasses he almost never wears. I have a strange urge to lean over, take them off him, and poke out his eyeballs so he can never look at me with that expression of baffled concern again. Or maybe take off his glasses and kiss him. But I know if I did that now, it would feel cruel.

“If your family is magic or whatever,” I say. “You always have food and tea and stuff. Is your mom, like, a witch? Like–does the witch even have a name, that witch, in the story?”

“Which one?”

“Like any of them.”

“Baba Yaga,” he suggests.

“No, the gingerbread one. Your mom is the gingerbread witch.”

“Neither of my moms are technically witches,” he says, primly. “We are just a highly intuitive family. With, uhh, an especially fine-tuned sense of impending doom.”

“Mine too,” I tell him. “It’s called being Jewish. Doesn’t make me magic.”

He smiles at me, soft. “But you are magic, though.”

“Wow, Ian. Gay.”

You’re gay,” he says.

“Your mom.”

“I mean, yeah.”

I shake my head, scowling. He’s not allowed to make me laugh. We are still fighting. “Am I magic enough to not die? That’s what she said. Lilit. She said not to die. How’s it supposed to happen, anyway? Seeing as how you told everybody at school, you owe me the details. Even if they’re gross. Suicide? Is that why the jokes bother you so much?”

“They’d bother me anyway,” he says, as if it’s offensive that I think he’d need a reason. “It wasn’t, like, a narrative dream, Avi. It was just information.”

What information?”

He shrugs. “Your name. Who you are. That you’re going to die.”

“Who I am? Did you know already, then, when you asked? You knew. I don’t get to have secrets, and you get to have this huge, like, impossible thing. How is that fair?”

“I guess it’s not.”

“Were you thinking you could kiss me and break the curse or whatever?” I ask him. “Were you thinking it’s a fairytale and you can fix everything just by being nice to me?”

“Maybe a little.”

“Fuck that,” I say. “It’s not me who has the problem, it’s all your douchehole friends who think it’s funny that I’m gonna die. You should go kiss all of them, see if you can turn them back into loathsome toads.”

“You’re getting it mixed up,” he protests. “That isn’t how it works.”

“You started all of this,” I tell him. “Teshuvah. You fucked up, and now you have to do what I want.”

“You’re not a mean person, Avi,” he says, so small. So sad.

“Just watch,” I tell him. “Just watch.”

 

He won’t let me leave. “You’re not walking home at four AM in the snow. Jeez, Avi.”

I’m too tired to protest. If I open my mouth to tell him he can fuck off, I might break apart.

He takes me upstairs and gives me his sweatpants. It’s the same pair as always. I think in his mind they belong to me now. I put them on in the bathroom and sit on the floor, head on my knees, until he knocks tentatively.

“Avi? Are you ok?”

“I’m still mad at you,” I tell him, letting him in. “Don’t think because I’m sleeping in your bed I’m not mad at you.”

“I get it!” he says. “I understand, it’s ok.”

I want him to hate me. I want him to tell me, go ahead, ask Lilit for a curse. I want him to tell me he doesn’t care what I do. But he doesn’t, and I can’t be angry at him anymore. I can’t scrape up the energy. And he’s warm, and I’m cold.

I curl up under the blankets and I let him rest his chin on top of my head, and he doesn’t point out that I’m crying.

 

 

I wake up alone, under snow-bright sunlight, and the house feels empty. I steal a pair of Ian’s socks because I don’t know what he did with my damp ones, and I go downstairs, dressed head-to-foot in his clothes. Rosa is in the kitchen, drinking tea, making toast.

“Avi!” she says. “You’re missing school. It’s alright, I called them. And your mother.”

I didn’t know she had my mom’s number. Even after telling her my secret, it’s been so hard to get back in the habit of talking to each other. I don’t understand how Ian’s family talk to each other so easily.

“Come sit down.” She pats the counter, turns to fetch a mug for me. “I told the school you’re sick.”

I sit. I accept the mug of tea she gives me, and the toast. I’ve never been in this house without Ian before, and it feels strange. It used to be when I was scared, I’d want to go home, to my room, to be alone. Now I want Ian. It’s not fair.

“I know you two are having problems,” Rosa says, “But you can ask me or Alice for anything you need, ok? Even if you and Ian are fighting.” She reaches across the counter, curls her hand around mine. “We’re here, if you need help.”

I shake my head. “I’m ok.”

My voice comes out raspy. Maybe I am sick, like she said. Maybe it’s going to kill me. Maybe it’s my own fault.

“He loves you,” Rosa says. “He feels terrible for not telling you. He didn’t want you to be scared.”

But I am scared. I’m terrified. I don’t want to not trust him. I don’t want to need him. I don’t know what to tell her.

“He misses you,” she says, gentle, just like Lilit. “And your mom says you miss him, too.”

What other conversations has Rosa had with my mom? I blink at her, and she smiles, soft.

“You don’t have to talk, don’t worry. Make yourself at home. And please eat that, I didn’t rescue the bread from Ian this morning just to watch it get shredded.”

I eat my toast, while Rosa reads the news. She lets me be quiet, like I would be with my mom. I thought they’d hate me, Ian’s family, for hurting his feelings and shutting him out. I thought I’d never fit right in this house again. But it’s like I never stopped coming over. They act like I belong here.

It feels wrong to think about cursing my classmates while Rosa is watching me. I mumble an excuse and go back upstairs, curl up in the blankets. I smell Ian’s shampoo on the pillow, and I hear his voice in my head. You’re not a mean person, Avi. I am, though. I have to be. I don’t understand how he doesn’t get it.

When I fall asleep again, I have nightmares. I’ve never had a nightmare in his house before. I must have ruined the magic.

 

We summon Lilit. We are at the café again and she tells me I’m making a mistake, I’m too young for curses. I remind her that this may be as old as I get. Ian sits next to me and holds my hand and looks sick, green and pale and panicked. His fingers are clammy, but I let him do it, because I’m afraid if he lets go I’ll change my mind.

“I have to give something up, right?” I ask her. “You need a trade.”

“I don’t know what you’ve got that I would want, honey bear,” she says. Her nails are a new shade of purple. It looks like the candied violets Rosa puts on her cakes, sometimes, when she’s feeling unbearably fancy. It occurs to me that maybe Lilit is always here because she owns the place.

“I know what I’ve got,” I say. “I’ve got a whole set of organs that I don’t want. They’ve got to be magic, right? You can make life out of them. First-born children and shit. I want them gone.”

Lilit’s eyes go wide. I can tell that she’s delighted, but she’s trying to be serious and detached. “You could get a heavy, heavy curse for that,” she says.

“I need a heavy curse,” I tell her. “I need enough for, like, my entire school.”

“Avi,” Ian says. He squeezes my hand and shakes his head, eyes wide.

“You can do it, right?” I stare at Lilit. “You’re magic, aren’t you? You can do it without hurting me?”

“I can take what you want me to take,” she says. “But a curse? That, I can’t do without hurting. There’s always recoil, with curses. Your spark is flickering, little mouse. Handling that kind of magic would snuff you right out. I’ve been telling you. Diminishing the lives of others diminishes your own, and you haven’t got much to spare.” She looks at Ian. “Tell your boyfriend to listen.”

“Avi, it’s a really bad idea.”

Sure. But everything looks bad to me, right now.

“Vacharta ba’chayim, Avraham,” Lilit says. “Choose life, didn’t anyone ever tell you that?”

“I don’t get to choose.” How many times do I have to say it? “I’m dying anyway, who cares?”

“I care!” says Ian, hurt.

Lilit looks at me with soft, sad eyes. “Just think about it. Think about what you can do with that potential.”

She disappears before I can tell her I already have.

 

“It’s a really bad idea, Avi.”

We’re sitting on the retaining wall, dangling our feet over the water. It’s iced over. Ian keeps fidgeting, probably because his butt is cold. We have thermoses of hot cider that he brought from his house, because he doesn’t trust me to keep myself warm.

“What have I got to lose?” I ask. “It’s not like any of those kids are ever going to like me.”

“You don’t even know what you’ve got! That’s the whole point! That’s the point of demons!”

“She doesn’t seem so bad.”

“What happened to how you don’t trust anybody?” he wails. “You don’t even trust me! You thought I was manipulating you for like two entire months and now you’ve met this demon lady twice and you think she’s totally fine? Did I say demon? Because she’s literally a supernatural demon, her job is putting curses on people!”

“Her job is making trades. And also, like, cupcakes.”

“Please, Avi. You’re being stubborn because you’re mad at me, I get it, I know I should have never said anything, I was on the internet and it said the only unforgivable sins in Judaism are murder and spreading rumors, so I’m not asking you to forgive me, but please, don’t start anything you can’t keep hold of, ok? What if you hurt somebody else who doesn’t deserve it? Does that fix how I got you hurt? Does that make it worth dying sooner? Because–and besides, you don’t know if Lilit will do anything to them, what if she just kills you, like, for all you know she’s the one who put the curse on you in the first place, don’t you get that?”

I don’t think she is. If she were, she wouldn’t have looked at me with Ian’s sad eyes and touched me with my mother’s warm hand. She wouldn’t have told me to think harder about making bargains. We’d already be done.

I shake my head at him. “You told everyone. If I trust you, why not her? I do fine with you, even if you are kind of a dipshit sometimes.”

He blinks at me, taken aback. “Wait,” he says. “You do trust me? You’re not still mad?”

“Come up with a better idea,” I tell him. “Come up with a better idea, and we’re good.”

I’m sure he can’t. But he’ll think he can, and that will distract him, so he’s not worried about me. And we can be ok with each other, for as long as I have left.

 

At school, people flinch away from me in the hallways and scrape their chairs on the floor, putting distance between us. I don’t ask. I know eventually they’ll tell me. They can’t handle the idea that I don’t care.

In bio I’m supposed to be doing a group project, but everyone shrinks away to the other end of the table. Mr. Donovan comes over and says, “April, what’s happening here?”

“She has the Zika virus,” says one of my groupmates.

“No, it’s Ebola.”

“It’s really contagious, Mr. Donovan, you shouldn’t touch her.”

 

“I thought maybe I’d ask her to give them Ebola,” I tell Ian. “That way we all die, and you can’t give me those puppy-dog eyes and tell me I made a mistake.”

“Don’t,” he says. “I had a better idea.”

I don’t believe him.

“Trust me?”

 

“It’s better to make life out of life, right?” Ian says. He was so pale and nervous last time, but not anymore. He’s wearing long pants, and a button-down shirt, and his glasses. He looks mature, professional. He looks like a goddamn Mormon missionary. I want to push him into a mud puddle. “Vacharta ba’chayim, right?”

I’m surprised he remembers the Hebrew. I didn’t. Even though he looked it up for me, after, and told me the Torah agrees with his moms about what’s good for the universe. Doing good things makes the world more magical. Doing bad things makes the world sadder and emptier. I told him the Torah can suck it, and smashed my face into the pillow so I couldn’t see his expression.

“Life builds on life, yes,” says Lilit, now. “You can get more power that way. I hope you boys have made a decision. If I eat one more of these cookies, I won’t fit into my suit.”

“Here’s the thing,” Ian says. “We want Avi to not die, and you said you don’t do trades with one person for another person, because it never works out. But you said you could do heavy magic if he gave you his, you know–”

“There’s a lot of potential there,” Lilit says. “A lot. Avi’s a smart kid. You should try teaching him magic.”

“Yeah,” says Ian. He squeezes my hand, gives me a look of pride, like, see? She and I agree, you’re so smart. “Yeah! Except not until he’s less messed up.”

I kick him under the table, but Lilit gives him a nod, like she agrees with that, too.

Ian keeps talking. “So I was thinking what if–what if both of us gave you our, um, potential, and you made it so–so he’s ok. Until he’s grown up or whatever. Sometime when it’s not tragic?”

“Dying is always tragic,” Lilit tells him. She makes eye contact with me, shakes her head a little. Like now she and I are sharing a moment, both of us rolling our eyes at how naive he is. Like things are so simple.

“A hundred and twenty,” I suggest. As long as we’re talking Torah.

She shakes her head. “Try seventy.”

“Ninety,” says Ian.

“No,” I say. “God, I was joking. That’s too damn long. I’ll take, like, seventy-five.”

Lilit shakes my hand. Then she leans over and kisses me, on top of my head, on the spot all my curls grow away from. “You get a lot more magic this way,” she whispers, quiet enough for only me to hear. “But that’s not what pleases me. What pleases me is knowing that next time I see you, you’ll be happy.”

Somehow, I’m not even afraid to believe her.

“You two are cheating me,” she whispers, quiet enough for only me to hear. “I’ve never been so delighted.”

I don’t know how I know she isn’t kidding. But I do.

 

We sit side-by-side on Ian’s bed, legs under the covers, watching cartoons. He’s taken off his wholesome costume and he’s wearing a Tinkerbell tank top and no binder, out of gender-conforming camouflage. We forgot to ask Lilit about magic top surgery. I think Ian kind of likes his boobs, anyway. I don’t like mine, and I’m still hiding, but I’m always hiding. It’s not a problem right now.

“I guess I have to tell my mom I’m never having kids,” I say, out of nowhere. She’s downstairs, talking to Alice. I heard them laughing, earlier. Ian told me he likes having an extra mom in the house. I like it, too. It’s easier to talk to my mom with his moms around. Words are just easier for them, I think.

“Don’t be a dingus, Avi,” he says now. “You never heard of adoption?”

“Huh? What?”

“How’d you think I happened? Alice transitioned before she even met Rosa. Adoption! Google it! There’s all kinds of options!”

“Nah, I mean, I just saved us so much surgery money.” It’s one thing mom doesn’t have to worry about, for the future. One thing I’ll never have to ask her for. One thing she’ll never have to tell me we can’t manage.

“I saved you,” Ian says. “It was my idea.”

“Both of us,” I concede.

I smell mint on his breath and slap him away before he can think of kissing me with his chewing-gum mouth, so he settles for pressing his forehead to mine and squeezing my hand in his own, building a little island of heat between us.

Both of us, together.

 

I think there was some magic left over, because no one asks me if I have cancer, syphilis, Ebola, the black plague. Either Lilit left us a bonus, or they’ve finally moved on. It’s been six months, and I’m not dead. Maybe they decided it wasn’t worth taking the prophecy into their own hands. Like I thought, I’m not annoying enough to be worth the effort. Or maybe it’s because I’m making the effort. It still feels like being alive is scarier than dying, sometimes. I think maybe it will be that way forever. But there are things I can point to, now, and tell myself they’re worth it, and believe it. Ian and his family and my mom. Talking to Lilit about being Jewish, and about magic, and about cooking. Making life out of life.

 

One day someone writes a message on the bathroom mirror in what looks like eyeliner pencil. It says Bryce Harrison is on steroids.

I text Ian.

teach me magic for not messed up ppl ? like idk i think th girls bathroom 2nd floor is cursed can we mb fix that

Why do u even use that bathroom dude :/ use the gneutral one upstairs! Dingus

just teach me something nice asshole!

like how do i get cats to like me or something idk

im trying to make the world better bc im ~not a mean person~

I watch the little bubble pop up and disappear a couple of times, and finally he texts me back.

Meet me @the cafe and i’ll make ur world better 😉

I find a paper towel, and I scrub the whole message off the mirror.

–End

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17 Comments

  • xavier
    August 23, 2017 at 11:34 am

    this is so good. i love avi and ian they’re such good boiz and im HERE for this trans rep. also, i don’t know anything about Judaism but a) the jewish things were cool and b) they were contextualized so i wasn’t confused at all. also, magical realism is my jam. also, sympathetic/not Evil demons h*ck yeah.
    12/10 would read again, would recommend to others, would want to read more by Sacha

  • Stephanie Burgis
    August 24, 2017 at 7:47 am

    This is so gorgeous and heart-wrenching and magical, and I loved it. Thank you guys for publishing it! <3

  • John
    September 15, 2017 at 11:46 pm

    I loved this! As a transman myself, I identified so much with them and my teenage self as I read this. I really loved Lilit too. Thank you for writing this!

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  • Laura
    October 10, 2017 at 2:08 am

    This story is so lovely — such a good mix of sad and sweet and hopeful! I look forward to reading whatever Sacha Lamb writes next!

  • Book Review: Avi Cantor Has Six Months To Live by Sacha Lamb | Meredith Debonnaire
    December 4, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    […] It’s just really really good, and you shall all have to put up with my slightly lazy reviewing today (I’ve just had lurgy, and have only just wrested control of my brain back from the headcold). You can buy this as an ebook or read it for free on the Booksmugglers website here. […]

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    […] 060 saints and misfits (sk ali) 061 the stone sky (nk jemisin) ???!!!!!!!!!!!?!?! 062 avi cantor has six months to live (sacha lamb) ? (I’m linking this bc 1) it’s free 2) I love it 3) I love Sacha) 063 […]

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  • Rob
    January 14, 2018 at 9:56 am

    I love this story so much. I love Avi’s voice, and I especially loved this part:

    “I look down at the granite counter-top and when she asks what to make for dinner I tell her I can’t eat spicy food and I’m lactose intolerant and also, if I had my way, you know, in an ideal world, I wish I could keep kosher.

    Their whole family are vegetarians, anyway. It’s not a problem.

    Apparently nothing I do is a problem for them. I’m not sure I like it. It makes me feel unsettled, like I don’t quite know what shape I am anymore. ”

    In those few sentences I understood Avi a lot better – how he thinks of himself as too much, too weird, always bumping into people. Being rejected is the familiar interaction he leans into, and when he encounters acceptance instead, he feels like he’s falling without anything to hold on to.
    He wants to be part of their warm caring family so much, but this is a large part of why he can’t just allow them to take him in. It’s overwhelming. I think this is beautifully shown and it made me care for him so much even though he’s kinda dumb sometimes (because he’s just a kid! Which is in itself relatable).

    I love the writing style – the use of paragraphs in particular. The pacing of the story is slow, contemplative, because that’s how Avi thinks, and the paragraphs play a big part in that. They really make you slow down and think about what you’re reading.

    Also: I’m so glad that good things happened to my bb. Yay magic surgery! Yay coming out to Mom! Yay for the sweet boyfriend (who also makes dumb decisions tho)! Maybe I can relate a little too much, but I just love everything. Thank you so much for making this.

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    January 28, 2018 at 12:59 am

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  • Jessica Reisman
    April 9, 2018 at 1:55 pm

    ***** Much love for this story.

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    […] & Updates; 00:58 “Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live” by Sacha Lamb Submit some questions for Question […]

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    […] by the Book Smugglers, “Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live” is a story about trans boys in love and crossroads magic. Messages start appearing all over […]

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