Playing Female

Joseph Dante

Joseph Dante

My problem is I pick at the scabs. I have enough time to wait around for scars to show up and get jealous of all the raised surfaces. I can never have them, but that doesn’t stop me from scratching at what I shouldn’t.

Vinny would come down to our house and knock on the door to either play basketball or video games. And when it was video games, it had to be the one where you could fight as a girl until you saw her take a shower at the very end. I got sick of both very quickly.

“Dude, I don’t want to play through the game again,” I said. “Anna sucks! Bite me.”

“Well, I guess you aren’t as interested,” he said, rolling his eyes. “You aren’t interested in anything.”

I didn’t know what he was suggesting at the time, so I pretended to ignore it. “You’re fifteen,” I reminded him, like I was the adult in the situation. I didn’t need to stand up and put my hands on my hips like his nonexistent mother.

“So are you. I’m a month older.”

“Can we just do team battle so I can finally kick your ass with every girl except Anna? Thank you.”

He flicked me in the ear. I hated when he did that. I flipped the backwards hat off his backwards head.

“Why do you always play female?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “They’re faster and have better moves.”

I was going to use Anna’s twin sister, Nina, to break his bones.

* * *

I wasn’t sure if I looked forward to Vinny’s visits or not. I hated basketball and I always lost. I hated the sun, I hated sweating. I could beat him at video games, but my mom always told me I had to play what he wanted to play. Little ragamuffin Vincenzo was the guest, and his parents probably didn’t give him the proper attention he deserved. My mom was good at instilling Catholic guilt in me ever since I first learned how to fold my fists together.

But it didn’t stop me from lying. When I didn’t want to do anything, I told him I was busy with homework. I had a science project on enzymes this week, a paper on Edgar Allan Poe. But Vinny kept knocking anyway. I knew he had an older sister who lived in Canada, but I didn’t know if he had any other friends here. Maybe he was stuck with me.

My mom started answering the door sometimes too because her schedule changed at work. She wouldn’t give me a chance to come up with excuses, so I had to go outside. I had to put on shorts, I had to get serious.

Why did we have a basketball hoop? Who wanted that? I tried to imagine things on the driveway as a different game instead. A game where Vinny didn’t see crowds cheering after he scored, a game where my skinny legs had hair instead of his. My head gave me bigger feet, gave him a hot pink shirt instead of a sticky wifebeater. I kept laughing and forgot how he didn’t like that. He knew I wasn’t trying, and he was distracted by my daydreams. I never considered them a distraction.

As he tried to get the ball from me, he fell and scraped his knee open. I expected him to get up and shove me in the grass, but he just groaned and picked the gravel out of the gash.

“Leave it,” I said. “I’ll help.” He raised an eyebrow and I rubbed at the redness. Before he could push me away, I leaned down and put my mouth on it. I sucked at the blood and dirt.

“What the fuck?”

It took a moment for him to get his hands on me. I let myself fall on the sidewalk.
“You have this disease in you that makes you too much of a boy,” I said. “I can take it away.”

I kissed the back of my hand. It didn’t leave much, but I smeared the rest on his cheek.

He could’ve called me a few names I was familiar with at school, he could’ve cursed. But he just stared at me like I found out a secret of his I had to keep.

“I have homework,” he told me.

“I can break the spell,” I said.

But he probably didn’t hear me because he was already walking home.

* * *

A scar formed. Vinny’s sister came home from Canada and asked about it. He was always in shorts and the scar was big and bright like a diamond. He wasn’t angry at me. He’d point at it at school and everyone would look. He wasn’t a soldier looking for sympathy—he was bragging about it like it was a medal.

His skin kept getting darker and darker because he lived in the sun now, and mine kept getting paler and paler because I only went outside to play basketball and he didn’t really bother asking me to play anymore. Instead, he confessed to me about a girl because he probably couldn’t confess to anyone else. Like hell he’d admit those impure thoughts to the priests.

This girl, Allison, was in my math class. She had hair like angel feathers and freckles that were light and sparse enough to be pretty, but she was boring. I just told Vinny she probably hated video games and especially basketball. She was no Anna, and she definitely wasn’t a Nina.

Vinny’s hair kept getting shorter too, until he was a skinhead. I wasn’t cutting mine. I decided I would never cut it.

We’d graduate soon enough. I knew he wouldn’t be going to Canada with his sister. There wasn’t much time left. Enemies were always in his eyes, and I couldn’t seem to suck it out of him.


Joseph Dante resides in South Florida, where the weather is like a cage but the streets are wide and reaching. His writing has appeared in Paste, and he is currently a reader for Hobart. He has a blog where he talks about writing, books, and the internet at

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