Pretty Women by Blake Kinnett

Pretty Women | Blake Kinnett

She’s lying on the couch beating her legs with a manual eggbeater when the truth or something like it slips out — I think I might be one of them transgendereds— and just like that, he breaks her heart. Not the admission – she hasn’t even processed that, even as she hears her mother’s voice hissing, he’s a little fruity, doncha think in her inner ear, cadence too heavy for the lightness of the word – frew-dee, frew-dee, frew-dee, a trochaic footNo, it’s the look on his face that does it – a blend of vulnerability and nerves, like he knows that this might destroy them utterly. Maybe, she thinks, she resents him for that, for his unyielding openness, his strange ability to be constantly honest, with himself, with her. Or, at least, that’s what she’d thought; now she isn’t sure. How long has he been harboring such a secret? And how could he have kept this from her, of all people? Perhaps that’s a thought for another day. Now there’s a new beast in front of her, one she has yet to process, one her mind is still trying to muddle through. Frew-dee, frew-dee, frew-dee. 

Avie doesn’t know what to say so she says nothing at all. She lowers her eyes to focus on the instrument in her hands gathering rust on its hinges, fished once upon a time from a Goodwill when Jack had jokingly said here, get the feeling back in your legs, and she’d laughed at him but tried it out that night – and it’d worked. Now she beats her legs almost every night, watches as her calves, blue as a drowned person’s lips, slowly pinken under the ministrations. It’s been a couple of months since her diagnosis, even longer since the onset of her very first symptoms; all the doctors had said then was that she might get sick more often. They hadn’t mentioned that the swelling in her legs would blur the distinction between her thighs, knees, calves, ankles, or that her skin would tighten like a too-small coat. Or the pain – they hadn’t mentioned that, either. 

He’s-uh-lit-tle-frew-dee-don-cha-think? She flexes her fingers, counts the syllables; nine. She frowns. One short of being divisible by five, one short of fitting comfortably on her fingers, one short of perfection. She thinks of ways to make it fit – he is a little fruity, doncha think – and now the voice no longer sounds like her mother, but like Avie, like something she can control. She smiles. 

“Avie,” Jack says, and he draws her out of her head, like he’s always been able to do. “Say somethin’?” And just like that, she processes, and grinds the eggbeater deeper into the meat of her calves. In their apartment’s kitchenette, a radio that came with the building hisses a sliver of a Roy Orbison song through the static. It can barely catch a signal, and yet Jack keeps it on for atmosphere. Avie stares up at the popcorn ceiling to avoid Jack’s eyes. She wants to be anywhere but here and now.

“Funny way to dump a girl,” she says, swallowing around a thick knot growing in her throat. “After I went through all this trouble. Gettin’ sick just so you’d stick around.” She half hopes he’ll take the bait, see the trainwreck coming from a mile away and sidestep the tracks. But she knows he won’t – of course he won’t – because she’s always been the Cassandra in the relationship, meanwhile he can’t see two inches in front of his own nose. Maybe she resents him for that, too. Just a little. 

“Avie,” he says again, “Aves, will you look at me?”

“I can’t look at you,” she says, “because I’m afraid that you’re serious.” She knows this is not the way anybody dumps a girl; she knows that this is not about her at all, though it certainly feels like it’s about her, like it’s about them both at the same time. She tries for humor next. “God, Jack, I don’t know what to say. I guess I should be thankful that you still manage to surprise me after all these years.” And when she laughs, it’s a strained, choked sound, and hearing that sound wrenched from her own throat makes tears prick at her eyes, and she smears them across her face. This is not something to cry about, she thinks distantly. She is a progressive woman. She has moved beyond her intolerant middle class White Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing. She went to college; she got an English education degree. She wants to teach at the high school one day, maybe start a GSA with the students, champion them, where nobody else in their small, backwoods Kentucky town would. Jack knows this, has always known this; so why is he only just telling her now? 

She hears him moving, and she closes her eyes, so she doesn’t have to see him kneel in front of her, doesn’t have to see him take her hands into his own. She feels the grooves of his callouses against her disease thickened fingers, and a horrible, uncomfortable thought occurs to her – how could these hands belong to anyone but a man? She opens her eyes and finds him watching her. 

“Aves,” he says, “What are we going to do now?” 

“Why are you asking me? I don’t know what there is to do.”  

“It’s up to you,” he says softly. 

“Why is it always up to me?” she whispers back. He doesn’t answer.
Instead, Jack takes the eggbeater from her hands, murmurs let me, and starts massaging the feeling back into her legs. Red flushes over the faint blue as he works the beaters into her flesh. Her blood vessels are shrinking in her extremities, a syndrome called Raynaud’s that often accompanies a diagnosis like hers, and when the temperature drops below sixty-five degrees, (and tonight has been a particularly cool summer night) her fingers, toes, and now calves turn varying shades of blue, so that her veins are impossible to locate beneath her skin. As Jack kneads her legs back to life, Avie regards her calves carefully: they look less like the legs of a woman and more like chicken cutlets stuffed into a nude stocking. And she and Jack haven’t had sex in the past eight nights or so, mostly because of the recurring numbness in her limbs.  

She knows that it won’t be her who leaves him; it could never be her. 

He finishes and sets the eggbeaters aside, and she takes his hands and says, “We can figure this out, right?” There’s hope in his eyes, and she’d been the one to put it there, and that knowledge squeezes her heart, so she continues.

“It’s just that you’ve been so good to me, through all this,” she says, “I can’t imagine not…repaying you in kind.” He will not leave her because of her illness; she will not leave him because of his maybe-trans-identity. They would not be statistics. 

“I don’t want you to repay me,” he says. “I want you to do what’s right by you.” He always has the perfect thing to say, so often that it sometimes makes Avie suspicious, as though he’s reciting lines fed to him from a couple’s counselor, or a self-help book on relationships. Not tonight, though. Tonight, she’s content to stay in this moment, imagine that Jack is the kind of man who just says the perfect thing, unbidden, all the time, and that she was the one lucky enough to land him. They could survive this. 

And yet there’s that voice again, a snake hissing into her ear, chanting frew-dee, frew-dee, frew-dee, and it no longer sounds like Avie’s own. 

Later that night, they lay side by side in bed and do not have sex, do not even initiate anything resembling intimacy, just lie side by side like nervous children for whom the body is still an unfamiliar animal, and she asks: “Why now?” but what she really means is How long has this been you?

“I’unno,” he says, and turns over onto his side. “Just felt right.”

And that’s that. 


Why now? Why now? Why now? Yeah, that one’s gonna haunt him. He should be thankful, maybe, that she didn’t ask the question he’d been dreading – are you sure? Because of course, he isn’t sure, maybe could never be totally sure, is anybody ever actually sure of who they are? 

His job is to stand at the docks and look pretty. Well, no – his job, at least today, is to help the boats to the docks and fuel them for a day’s worth of summer. Some days, his job is to move firewood around the campground, also owned by Johnny, the elderly, semi-demented old man who ran the docks; other days, his job is to restock the Captain’s Chair, the general store attached to the dock that sold groceries, lake equipment (picnic baskets, buoys, life jackets, beach towels), and bait and tackle, among other idiosyncrasies. All the while, no matter what, look pretty for the tourist women, who come here from Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee, the best of which wear identical broad sunhats, their tanned shoulders somehow unfreckled no matter how much the sun abused them. Their sleek, straight hair hangs down their backs, glistening like waterfalls, or maybe like glass catching the light, and makes him more conscious of his own dull brown hair that can never seem to grow beyond where it curls around his ears. He knows better than to think that these women are truly glamorous; none of them are ever the kind of women who end up on advertisements for white sand beaches. But they are, perhaps, the best the surrounding states’ middle class has to offer, and he’s jealous of them anyway. 

Does he want them? Or does he just want to be them

His father – who he no longer speaks to – had gone bald at the age of twenty-eight, and Jack’s time is coming up. He can’t imagine himself bald, but that doesn’t mean anything – try as he might, he can’t imagine himself as a woman, either. Thick ropes of muscle in his arms and legs mean that he’ll never be dainty or waifish. His father said once that a good woman will make you feel like a man in all the right ways, and yet he was attracted to Avie for her own brusqueness, all the ways in which she made him feel not at all like a man. That girl’s gonna run you around like she owns you, his father had told him when they’d first started dating in high school, and he remembers thinking, God, I hope so. 

Oh, God, is he a creep? Sitting here ogling tourist women and judging them based on appearances? He’s no better than a frat boy; it doesn’t matter what his true intentions are. Avie would be at least annoyed with him if she knew the gist of his thoughts.

Avie, Oh, god, Avie. Her reaction the night before had been strange. If he’d expected anything from his coming out – if that was indeed what it could be called – it’d have been one of suppressed tears and slamming doors, of one night spent away from their apartment and at her mother’s turning to two nights to three, culminating in an eventual breakup in which she got the apartment because her mother was the one to co-sign the lease. And yes, he’d always intended to tell her something – he just didn’t know what, or when, or how. She’d responded with something almost like acceptance, and that makes something in his chest – his heart? – flutter, just a little. They can work this out. They can survive this. He’s more certain of that, at least, than he’s ever been before. 

He surveys the marina. The water, usually green and glassy as a marble, now churns with white, foamy wake as boats split seams across the lake. Waves slap against the thin, gritty strand that separates Lake Cumberland from a sparsely wooded campground. The scent of algae and dead bait from the tackle shop bleeds together with greasy diner air. Teenage boys with freckled shoulders and sweat-drenched wife-beaters holler for the attention of some long-legged tourist woman whose disguised her face with thick black sunglasses. Jack casts his eyes downward as she passes in front of him, the wooden planks that keep the dock afloat creaking beneath her weight. If he looks her in the eye, she’ll know what a weirdo he is, a creep. The kind of guy who stares at women and desires them without considering their personhood. The kind of guy he’d promised himself he’d never be. When the woman disappears around the corner toward the Captain’s Chair, he’s grateful.  

Three-fingered Charlie flags him down from her usual spot, hunched over in a paint-chipped rocking chair in front of the diner on the docks. She spends mornings, afternoons, and sometimes even evenings nursing sweet tea after sweet tea on the docks, swapping gossip and stories about the good-ole-days with the elderly dock denizens. But Charlie isn’t elderly, Jack doesn’t think. Charlie’s the kind of woman whose body seems borrowed from a much older person. She can’t have been over forty, and yet bloated blue veins wrap like ribbons around twiggy limbs, and her sagging skin always looks tired, as though it cannot bear the weight of the bones within. White surgical scars that’d stretched as she aged are the only proof that she’d once had an index and a ring finger on her left hand. Jack doesn’t know how she’d lost her fingers, and he doesn’t particularly want to ask Charlie such sensitive information. He figures that if the gossip is all that juicy, he’ll hear it around town, or from the dock denizens, eventually. 

“Heard your girl’s been having some health problems.” Charlie has a voice like a door hinge and a cough like a coal miner, the result of smoking at least half a pack a day for God-only-knows how many years in a row. She’s down to a couple a day, at least, and her struggle to kick the habit before the lung cancer comes for her has been the subject of many of their dockside conversations. 

“She has, yeah.” Jack says. 

“My condolences,” Charlie says. “Y’all are awful young for health problems.” She’s fishing, Jack can tell; she’s trying to bait him into doling out even more information. Dock regulars like Charlie barter in gossip. It’s the only true currency out on the water, so he’s always careful to only tell her what she already knows. 

“It’s just bad luck, I suppose,” he says. 

“Poor thing,” Charlie’s hairless brows pinch together, deepening the wrinkles already outlined in her forehead. Her solitary middle finger tapped against the chair’s wooden armrest. “It’s hard for a young woman to grow old so quickly.” 

Avie’s waiting for him on their concrete slab of a porch that night after his shift ends, sitting in one of two unfolded camping chairs that they normally keep inside. Jack makes himself comfortable in the second, empty chair, and together they watch moths bump into the dimly lit sconce screwed above their door. 

“I’m on some new medication,” Avie says in greeting. “Got it filled at the pharmacy this afternoon.” Avie stretches out her legs, showing off their pink flush. Jack knows she’s left the kitchen window open, because he hears the hissing radio struggling to cling to the Top 40 station. “Methotrexate. Another immunosuppressant. Doc thinks this one’ll work. Side effects include chronic fatigue, dizziness, hair loss, and headache. It won’t do anything for the Raynaud’s, probably, but it’ll stop the swelling. Bye-bye, eggbeaters.” 

“And the pain?”

“It’s supposed to help with pain,” she says carefully, “but I kind of think that’s something I’m just going to have to live with.” 

For a while they just sit quietly, content to watch the moths. But it isn’t long before she breaks the silence. Of course she does.  

“You know,” she says. “You know. It’s kind of beautiful. If you go through with this, you’ll get to mold your own womanhood. It won’t just be foisted on you.” He wishes that she wouldn’t talk about this in public; what if the neighbors overhear? But it’s late, and their neighbors on either side are elderly; the lights are off in their apartment window. He decides that perhaps this is a safe space, after all. And Avie wants to have this conversation; he can tell that it’s something she’s thought about a lot since the night before. 

“You feel like it’s been foisted on you?” he asks. 

“Womanhood is a gift I didn’t open until it was too late,” she says instead of explaining; or perhaps that is her explanation. Avie had gone to college – that’s Jack’s excuse as to why her thoughts seem to spiral, like water circling a drain. “Now it’s gone.”

“You think it’s gone?”  She doesn’t answer, instead rubs circles into her knee, mostly lost to swelling. Jack hopes that her body regains the definition it’d had before her symptoms took over her life. Are his hopes for his benefit, or hers? He’s afraid of the answer to that question. The line between his lust for Avie and his desire for a femininity of his own has always been smudged, indistinct; was his fascination with the sloping path from breast to hip driven by sexuality, jealousy, or some warring combination of both? And it’s true that he’d never realized how hulking his shoulders are until he’d noticed how delicate hers seem. His hands, calloused from work, never feel coarser than when they’re pressed against her thighs. And though her body makes him feel like a man in all the wrong ways, she’s always been a woman. 

She didn’t ask for reassurance, but he offers it anyway. “You’re a beautiful woman, Avery.” 

She leans into the porch’s dim light. Every dark ring that pleats the skin underneath her eyes might be an hour of sleep lost from joint pain. Her skin is sallow, like the subject of a sepia photograph that somehow escaped the frame. She pulls her lips into a rueful smile. 
“I was.”


A clump of hair sticks to the shower drain like some dead creature. It mocks her. Scorns her. Uh-clump-uhv-hair. Uh-clump-uhv-hair. Four syllables and Avie can’t think of a way to make it perfect. 

It may be time to admit that she is no longer in control. 

She retreats from the shower, letting the hot water run, sits in the corner of their cramped bathroom, and concedes defeat. This is her third medication in as many months. The first caused chronic dizziness. The second made her tired and weak. And now this – now her hair falling out in thick clumps. Methotrexate, she knows, is essentially a low dose of chemotherapy; it is used to treat leukemia, among other cancers. Loo-key-me-uh.  Imperfect again. Im-per-fekt-uh-gin. Perfect in its imperfection, perhaps. She feels temporary relief. Hair does not make a woman.

Hair does not make a woman. Hair does not make a woman. She would never consider a bald woman any less of a woman because of her baldness; but Avie is not other women. Avie’s hair had been a point of pride for her; long, a dark auburn, thick and with just the right amount of wave. And now, staring at the clump of knotted hair caught in her shower drain, she gets the feeling that she took her hair for granted. 

Her femininity, her womanhood, literally swirling down the drain. Avie knows this is a silly thought; she chides herself for being melodramatic. But the knot of wet hair in the shower drain feels like a fundamental loss of something if not her womanhood, more so than the other changes in her body. She sits in the corner of the bathroom until the water begins to run cold, and then Jack’s knocking on the door. 

“Aves?” he says, and she doesn’t answer him, just opens the door for him. He comes inside, lets the residual steam exhale out the bathroom door. 

“What’s the matter?” he asks softly. 

“My hair,” she says. “My hair’s falling out.” My-hairs-fall-ing-out. My-hairs-fall-ing-out. This time there is no relief.

“Oh,” he says. “Can you change medications, maybe? Talk to your doctor?” Frustration blooms in her chest; of course, of course, he thinks it’s that easy. And why wouldn’t he? Hasn’t she been going through this, her illness, the changes in her body, the roulette of medications that never take away symptoms nearly as much as they give new ones, hasn’t she been going through this alone? Jack has been there, yes. He’s gone to as many doctor’s appointments as he possibly could, has made an effort to stay abreast of her medication changes and her treatment regimen, has even massaged her legs with his hands, with the damn eggbeaters. But the changes in her body are hers alone. The pain in her legs, the way the skin on the tips of her fingers crack and split and don’t even bleed because the blood vessels in her extremities have shrunk beyond bleeding – these things belong to Avie, and to Avie alone. 

She wishes for a partner in her suffering. 

She doesn’t say these things. Instead, she says, “I’ve been on and off so many medications. I don’t know if there are other options anymore.”

He’s quiet for a moment. There’s only the sound of the bathroom fan and the showerhead spitting hard water into the tub. Jack slides down the wall of the bathroom to sit next to her, resting his chin in his hands.

“What will make it better?” he finally asks. “Tell me what I can do, Avie, and I’ll do it.” And that, too, does not surprise her at all.

“Nothing,” She cards her fingers through her hair and finds more loose strands woven between them. “Nothing will make this better.” 


Avie returns from a doctor’s appointment one afternoon with a Walmart bag tucked underneath her arm. It’s Jack’s day off and he’s immediately suspicious; Avie obscures a giddy smile with one hand as she drops the plastic bag onto their coffee table. 

“What did Walmart have that you needed so bad?” Jack asks. 

“Walmart’s really upped their game,” she says instead of answering. “They have some clothes that aren’t half bad. I mean, nothing stylish, it’s not real fashion, but it’ll do, for now.” 

Curiosity gets the better of him. He takes the plastic bag and dumps the contents out onto the coffee table, and finds himself staring at a bundle of red, floral-patterned fabric. An idea starts to form. 

“Avie,” he says, “no. No way.” 

“Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “You told me you think you might be a trans woman. Well, this is how we’ll know. Try on the dress. If it feels right, it feels right.” She folds the sundress over her arm and takes Jack by the hand. He follows her into the bathroom. 

They both face the bathroom mirror, Avie slightly behind Jack with the sundress in hand. A thin diagonal break in the glass spits Jack’s face in two. Avie holds the dress up to his body, brow creased in thought. 

“Do you want to get undressed?” she asks.

“I think I’d rather try it on over my clothes,” he says. Something about the dress on his body, touching his skin, would feel like some great violation of femininity; he thinks that maybe he’ll be safer if he wears it over his own clothes. “Avie, I’m just not sure. I can’t imagine myself as a woman.” 

“Well, don’t wait too long,” Avie said. “Womanhood gets worse as you go. Put it on.” She helps him wrestle the fabric over his head, and he closes his eyes as Avie adjusts the shoulders and the waistline. “You can look,” she says. “Look, Jack. It’s okay.” 

So he looks. 

He doesn’t know what he expects; the dress can’t file down his unforgivably hard jawline, can’t thin the bridge of his nose, can’t mold his body into the shape of a woman. He is a man in a dress. He’s no better than a man playing dress-up with his wife’s clothes while she’s away. Perhaps womanhood is Avie’s gift, but for Jack, it’s stolen goods. 

And yet there is something fundamentally right about the dress; he likes the delicateness of the garment, the way it fits snugly against his waist before flaring out like a flower blooming. He likes the dark color, the red floral accents, the way it’s feminine but not too feminine, because the woman this dress belongs to doesn’t have to try so hard.  It’s perfect, he thinks, except for the body that wears it. 

They’re both still in the mirror’s reflection like animals blinded by headlights. 

And then Avie — Avie, god bless her — she breaks the stillness. Avie tugs her fingers through his tousled hair. She pulls the skin on his cheekbones taunt and studies the effect. She takes a step back and looks him up and down slowly, brow furrowed. And then she smiles wistfully, drapes her arms around his neck and makes eye contact with him in the mirror. 

“You’ve got long legs. Thick hair that’ll grow out in no time. And your cheekbones – your facial features are more delicate than a typical man’s, I think. Hormones would do a lot for you if you wanted them. You’re awfully lucky.” Her smile thins. “You’ll make a beautiful woman.” 


In the weeks after her medication change, Avie finds her hair everywhere: on her pillow in the morning, in the bathroom sink, caught in the air vents, and of course, stuck in the shower drain. She cannot escape her own decay. Still, she hasn’t asked her doctor to alter her medications further. She’s tired of spinning Fortuna’s wheel. She craves consistency, rest. She is exhausted, and she isn’t sure that the methotrexate is entirely to blame. Her weariness is the existential sort, the kind that seeps past the skin and musculature to settle deep within her bones. She is no longer at the wheel; her life is being piloted by a particularly reckless driver. This disease in her body, the poison she’s been microdosing, the crushing weight of medical debt…all things outside of her reach. Owt-side-uv-her-reech. Owt-side-uv-her-reech. She flexes her fingers, but the relief, the sense of control, doesn’t come. 

She stands in front of the bathroom mirror, a pair of scissors and clippers sitting on the sink, and she parts through her hair, counting the thinning, the balding. In the coming days, her mother will describe her plan as the product of a manic episode, but Avie has thought this through. She can’t bear to lose it, so she must take it away. 

She starts with the scissors, meticulously cutting her thick swaths of hair down to her ears, shedding the weight of herself off her scalp. She meets her reflection’s eyes in the mirror, watches as she transforms. A smile creeps across the reflection’s face, and she looks beautiful when she smiles, the giddiness in her eyes something infectious. She feels her heart beating in the tips of her fingers, blood finally, finally pulsing through those weakened blood vessels, and she feels energy like a tremor through her body; the feeling is foreign to her, or perhaps has been long lost to disease. She stares and stares and stares at her mirrored image, and then she reaches for the clippers to finish what she’s started. 

She shaves a stripe through the middle of her head, watches the hair fall away. She laughs. It’s so easy. It’s so easy, to remake oneself, to take back what disease had robbed of her. The time for precision is over; Avie shaves her head with reckless abandon, attacks her head with the razor, clipping her skin. She doesn’t feel the pain, just the warm blood beading along her scalp, but even that drives her, makes her feel alive in a way that she hasn’t felt in months, like all her strings were cut and she’s finally allowed to float away. She’s living and vibrant and vital, and her whole body is a heart, pulsating in every extremity. 

She stands in piles of her own hair, bald and shivering from the ecstasy, and she’s staring at herself as though she is her own oasis.  She’s beautiful. 

This is how Jack finds her, moments after he returns from the docks, long after the sun has slipped below the tree lines. He stares at her reflection in the mirror, seeing but not quite comprehending. He takes in her bald head, the thick ribbons of hair clutched in her hand, which she lifts like the hide of some creature she’d skinned herself.  

“Jack,” she says, “look, baby. We can make you a wig.” She laughs but he doesn’t think it’s funny, not at all. Her head without her hair seems small, and her eyes are huge and bright. Her scalp was white as the sun’s reflection on the lake, save for a few blotches of dark fuzz, where she’d missed a few spots. Jack knows he’s staring, but he can’t stop. Is this his fault? Had his coming out done this to her? To them? 

The look on Jack’s face – priceless. She’s surprised him, shocked him into utter silence. This is how it felt for me, she thinks. But revenge does not motivate her; she wants to transform alongside him, meet him halfway. 

He takes steps forward until he’s close enough that she can hear him breathing, and then he reaches his hand out to caress her bare scalp.

“You missed a few spots,” he says. “Let me help you.” She nods, and she closes her eyes as the razor shivers to life. Avie feels the razor eat the remainder of her hair, the thick clumps falling on her shoulders. There’s hair everywhere, on her shoulders, her neck, even on her back, and she itches terribly. 

“I’m done,” he says, and she opens her eyes in time to see him turn off the razor and take a step back. “What do you think?”

With her hands she explores the new terrain of her bare head, feels the prick of short hairs against the palm of her hand. She says, “I feel new.” She wants to share this feeling; she wants a partner in her euphoria. Her eyes land on her makeup bag, sitting on the edge of the sink, and an idea forms. She brushes past him to grab a stool from the kitchen, and when she returns Jack’s standing in the same spot. He’s still processing, the poor thing.

“Sit,” she says as she sets the stool in front of the mirror. “Sit and let me do your makeup.”

“What?” He asks. “No, Aves, that’s ridiculous.”

“It isn’t,” she says. “You told me you can’t imagine yourself as a woman. Well, let me show you. Yourself, as a woman. I can do it. Let me.” And before he can argue further, she’s pushing him down onto the stool. She rummages through her makeup kit and pulls out the utensils he recognizes from watching her do her own makeup in the morning. He does not watch her in the mirror as she does his makeup, cuts his face into sharp angles with bronzer, paints his face with the same dark, smokey colors she uses for herself. The tip of her tongue pokes out between her lips as she works. 

“It’s not perfect,” she says, “but we can work on it. Look. What do you think?”

Jack turns to face the mirror, and a woman stares back. Gone is the thick bridge of her nose, the hard, square jawline; both were tapered down by Avie’s hand. The eyeliner, the shadows, make her dull brown eyes into something special, something luminous. Even the shortness of her hair seems intentional. She watches as Avie styles the hair, pulling some of the strands forward, giving Jack something of a faint fringe. She reaches up to touch her face and Avie stops her. 

“I worked hard on that,” Avie says. “Don’t mess it up.” Avie watches as Jack’s hands hover over her own face, skimming but not quite touching. She had done that for her. She had done that for her. She’d found a woman in the marble, and perhaps she has not set her free, not yet; but Jack is becoming. Avie is becoming. It is a beautiful thing, to be born. There’s no need to count the syllables, no need to make anything perfect; she feels the rightness down to her bones.

She is a person made new. 

Pretty Women by Blake Kinnett was selected as the runner-up for the 2023 HoneyBee Prize in Fiction by Roxane Gay. Here’s what Ms. Gay had to say about the piece:

Pretty Women is a deeply immersive story about a marriage in which both spouses are grappling with who they are and how they are living in their bodies. It is a marriage story but it’s also a story about the vows a married couple takes and how they can be tested in the most unexpected ways.

More about the author:

Blake Kinnett is a writer from Southern Kentucky in the Appalachian region. They write primarily about illness and disability, queerness, trans identity, and the intersections between. They received their MFA from the University of Tennessee — Knoxville, and are working toward a PhD at the University of Nebraska — Lincoln.