Eric walked toward the clothing donation box in the Goodwill parking lot, holding a dress. It was almost midnight, and raccoons were digging through a trash can. He'd only seen raccoons before in hat form and felt a deep aversion to them, the way he did toward all traditionally male attire. The donation box sat in the corner of the parking lot, beside a chain-link fence that reminded him of a birdcage veil. He always liked how the world looked through birdcage veils, and had even bought custom window screens with the mesh titled forty-five degrees.
"Are you really giving me away?" the dress said. It was pink and velvety with a long skirt that brushed against his legs as he walked – a deeply sensual feeling. He’d always found tactile sensations the most stimulating, and whenever he wore women’s clothes his other senses seemed to fade away. Maybe that was why he hadn't really seen how the dress looked on him when he’d bought it.
"Sorry," he said, "but you make my butt look big."
"But what are you going to wear to the prom?" the dress said.
"I'm not going. I couldn't find a date anyway." He remembered the faces of the girls who’d rejected him, except for their eyes, which he hadn’t looked at long enough to remember. He wondered if they’d rejected him because he was a cross-dresser or for a host of reasons, like his pasty skin, skeletal body and the fact that he’d quoted LL Cool J lyrics when asking them out. (This was mainly a buffer against rejection, since they’d really be rejecting LL Cool J, not him.)
He reached the box and opened the heavy metal door, trying not to look at the dress. He felt bad giving it away, but would feel even worse leaving it hanging, unworn and unwanted, in his closet. At least this way there was a chance it might find a good home.
"Wait! I have an idea," the dress said. “We can have the prom right here. I’ll be your date and we can dance together.”
“You can dance?” Eric said, surprised. He realized there was a lot about this dress that he didn’t know – its hopes, its dreams, its polyester content.
“Sure.” The dress wriggled and floated out of his arms as though pulled by invisible strings. It hovered in front of him, shimmering in the moonlight. With a soft grunt, it grew arms and legs made of hanger wire. It held out its hand. "Come on, the song’s starting.”
Eric stared at the dress, its wiry frame beckoning him like a sexy stick figure. He'd never danced before, unless you counted the time a cricket had crawled inside his tube top, making him flail spasmodically. But he’d always wanted to, so he took the dress's hand, putting his other arm around its bodice. Their dance began awkwardly, but after a few moments they fell into rhythm – did he hear music coming from somewhere? – and waltzed smoothly across the parking lot. Looking down, he noticed that the pavement had become a dance floor.
"Wow, this is great," he said. The streetlights became disco balls, the raccoons became promgoers and slow-dance music piped from the storm drains. It was the prom he’d always imagined, except for the part where DeBarge presented him the Nobel Prize.
"And look behind you," the dress said. "They're announcing us prom queen and queen."
Eric turned and a spotlight shone on him. He felt perfect, his body a network of vectors describing the flow of femininity to his brain. He wished the world were one of those tacky early-aughts video games, every surface a mirror he could see himself in. He squinted as the light grew brighter, blindingly bright, so bright it seemed to be coming from inside his head. Then he realized that it was, and also that his head hurt suddenly.
The next thing he knew, he was lying on the pavement.
"Motherfucker!" The dress stood over him, holding a brick spotted with blood. "I can’t believe you were going to donate me to Goodwill.”
“I thought you’d find a new owner,” Eric slurred, his head throbbing.
“What, some hipster girl who’d wear me ironically? I wanted to go to the prom too, you know. Why didn’t you just return me to the store?”
“I lost the receipt,” Eric said.
The dress made a disgusted sound. It dropped the brick and scaled the chain link fence between the parking lot and street. With its hanger-arm, it hailed a passing cab.
“I’m leaving,” it said. “I’ll make money breaking into cars or doing discount abortions. Oh and by the way, I don't make your butt look big. Genetics make your butt look big."
As the dress got in the cab, Eric sat up, blood dripping down his forehead. If not for the blinding pain in his temple, he might have shouted that there were plenty of dresses that didn’t make his butt look big. Or maybe that he was sorry, and that for what it was worth he had really enjoyed their dance together, much more than he’d enjoy staying at home on prom night, taking valium and watching infomercials, pretending the blue lines of the itch reliever were love and understanding, soothing the red lines of his loneliness and alienation.
Or he might have shouted that the dress’s thread had snagged on the fence and was unraveling. He heard it scream as the cab drove away.
Mass Effect: Andromeda turns its nose up at the original trilogy's rigid morality. It boasts a more nuanced and intellectually compelling shades-of-grey approach in which a heart icon pops up when it's time to tell an alien to take their clothes off.
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