The Butler Scholarly Journal

The Questioning Closet

By Natasha Ali

“It’s locked.”

“No it’s not.”

“I’m telling you it is!”

“Let me try.”

I stand, brush past her purposely, take the yellow door handle with both of my deceptively
strong arms and pull. Yank. Pathetically lurch and heave.

It’s locked.


“I told you.”

I hate that she can say that, “Is this a joke? Did you do this?”

She stops. Her amused face goes dead pan and bitter right in front of me, “Wow Em.”

I falter. Moron. It’s always the phrases I don’t filter that go on to sting.

Normally when I manage to damage a conversation, I’ll simply retract myself from the situation.
But no one is rescuing us from this supply closet. We’re the only two taking art in the year, the
teachers sick and next lesson doesn’t start for another twenty-three minutes. I’m trapped, which
means I have to say something I absolutely hate saying.


It’s not enough. She shrugs, shakes her head and twists away. A dismissal of my probably too
late but well-meaning apology. I really need to be more careful with my words, especially with

My cerebrum’s settings shift to high alert, “Really. I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry.”

I try for eye contact, but she does her signature trick of letting her fringe cover the important
parts of her face. Her hair is a disturbingly natural ink black so it’s like she’s suddenly shrouded
in darkness.

Still, after a distressing few moments, she speaks, “You know, I have a girlfriend now.”


“So you don’t have to be so…”, she flinches a bit, “I don’t know. Scared of me anymore.”

My heart crashes at that, “That’s not fair.”

A hostile laugh. I roll my eyes and scan the paints, chalks and brushes, trying to distract myself
and silently hoping she doesn’t come out with some snide, passive aggressive comment I know
she’s too good at thinking of.

“I thought you didn’t believe in fairness.”

Never mind.

If I engage, the chances of this interaction not ending in an argument or crying are slim and I will
most definitely come out looking like the bad guy. At the same time, she clearly wants to talk to
me, even if it is just to be mean. And I’m painfully aware there may not be another opportunity
for that considering I’ve been well and truly ignored for months now.

“Maya. I was never scared of you.”

I refuse to look at her when I speak. Confrontation. Another thing I can’t stand.
Maya touches the acrylics to her side, away from me. They match her hair and I wonder if it’s a
purposeful choice. I wonder if she wants me to think of blackness and midnight whenever I see

The light above us flickers.

“I’m not scared of you”, I try again. I need to add more to that sentence, but I don’t know how to
phrase it without sounding like a total ludicrous asshole.

She turns to me, finally. Her brown eyes shine with anger and sadness and fear and guilt, “If you
weren’t scared, you wouldn’t have left me.”

Every second she glares at me makes the grey, dust-ridden room seem lesser and smaller and in
this perfect moment of emotion I decide I’m done playing neutral. I force my stare back to be an
equilibrium to hers, “I was not scared Maya. I was suffocating.”

That makes her eyebrows shoot and I relish in the shock I’ve caused, “Suffocating?”


Her head tilts, lips pursing in an analytical way. When she eventually talks, the venom in her
voice is undeniable, “You weren’t suffocating before I told you I was gay.”

And there it is. The elephant in the room viciously exposed. My own eyebrows crease and
without considering any implications I say, “You didn’t try to convince me I wasn’t straight
before that.”

We reach a stand still in our stand-off. The fumes from expensive paints are beginning to make
me hazy and all I want more than anything is to just. Leave. This. Room. I can’t be here for her
reaction. I don’t want to lose control.

“What does that mean?”

She looks genuinely confused. It pushes me over a ledge I wasn’t aware I was on.

“Oh let’s just try it”, I mimic, cruelly, “Just once. Just kiss me Em. Kiss me. You might like it. You’ll
never know unless you try. Just try it Em. Please, for me.”

I throw my arms out and suddenly dozens of brushes and watercolours catapult to the floor. We
both jump as we’re rained on by our subject. Maya stands startled, but I don’t think it’s just
because of the bright colours now drenched comically in our hair.

“That”, she says meekly, blatantly ignoring the mess around us, “Was a joke.”

“Really?” I jerk a brush out of my top, “Was it really just a joke?”

“Honestly Em we’ve been”, She sighs, “I mean we were best friends for-”

“For years. Exactly”, I explode, “I know when you’re lying Maya. I know when you say something
and mean something else. And I told you a million times that I love you. I love you like you’re

I’ve started crying. One more thing I despise but there’s no preventing these bottled-up tears
from breaking out.

“But I can’t love you any more than that.”

Silence. I decide to fill it.

“You wouldn’t let me be there for you as a friend”, I carry on, sadness hammering, “When you
told me. If I tried to bring it up, if I tried to talk about it with you it would always become about
my sexuality. Who I liked. You kept trying to make me say which girls I found pretty. You’d get
annoyed if I even talked to a guy.”

She’s not arguing back. She’s not doing anything. I continue full might.

“I’m straight. That does not mean I’m homophobic. And you tried to tell me I was just because I
didn’t want you! I tried to ask if you had feelings for me and you pushed me away. You say I left
you, but I didn’t have a choice! I couldn’t help you.”

I wipe my eyes and go to look at Maya expectantly. She’s slumped against the door, crying just as
hard as I am. It’s an awful sight.

I try to talk but she holds a hand up and stands straight, gaze meeting mine. She speaks quietly,
carefully, “It was…hard. When it all started.”

“I know.”

“I was confused.”

“I know.”

“I didn’t handle it as well as I maybe should have.”

“Neither did I.”

Quiet. She’s thinking.

“I’m sorry.”

I breathe, relief and heartbreak stick to the air, “Look. This girl. Are you happy with her?”


The smile on her face proves she’s being truthful. I smile right alongside her.

The mood shifts, “I miss you.”

I laugh, “Me to. Let’s figure out how to get out of here and then we can talk.”

“Maybe if we tried together?”


And so we place our two pairs of hands on the door and pull. We’re going to get out of the closet,
together this time.