Hellum and Neal Series in LGBTQIA+ Literature • Release Date: August 31, 2016
Print ISBN: 978-1-942083-42-9 • Ebook ISBN: 978-1-942083-45-0
Brain Mill Press offers Documenting Light for direct sale in ebook and in a limited fine first edition printing of signed, numbered paperbacks. Ebook buyers receive access to MOBI (Kindle), EPUB, and PDF files, offered without DRM restrictions. Print book buyers receive a numbered copy of the book, autographed by the author, and access to the ebook files in all formats.
"Everyone should be reading this book. Right now."
—Prism Book Alliance
"I could gush on and on and on about this story ... I give this book the strongest possible recommendation."
"I loved this story, this romance, and the truth behind this novel. This author has my admiration and the book my highest recommendation."
—All About Romance
"These are nuanced portrayals, not paint-by-numbers trans folks, so they come off so very real and fleshed-out and wonderful. . . . Definitely recommended for everyone, but especially historians."
—Trans Book Reviews
"An important book ... claiming new territory. Highly recommended."
—Just Love Romance Reviews
"Well-crafted stories with transgender characters can be a bit scarce, but this one hits the mark."
"Stories like this one are magical, and they help us see and relate to each other as human beings regardless of the differences between us."
—Ellie Reads Books
"I have not read a more human story ... Find and read Documenting Light. You will see humanity. You will be uplifted."
—Dr. Rupert Nacoste, NC State University Office for Institutional Equity and Diversity
A Library Journal Best Book of 2016
If you look for yourself in the past and see nothing, how do you know who you are? How do you know that you’re supposed to be here?
When Wyatt brings an unidentified photograph to the local historical society, he hopes staff historian Grayson will tell him more about the people in the picture. The subjects in the mysterious photograph sit side by side, their hands close but not touching. One is dark, the other fair. Both wear men’s suits.
Were they friends? Lovers? Business partners? Curiosity drives Grayson and Wyatt to dig deep for information, and the more they learn, the more they begin to wonder — about the photograph, and about themselves.
Grayson has lost his way. He misses the family and friends who anchored him before his transition and the confidence that drove him as a high-achieving graduate student. Wyatt lives in a similar limbo, caring for an ill mother, worrying about money, unsure how and when he might be able to express his nonbinary gender publicly. The growing attraction between Wyatt and Grayson is terrifying — and incredibly exciting.
As Grayson and Wyatt discover the power of love to provide them with safety and comfort in the present, they find new ways to write the unwritten history of their own lives and the lives of people like them. With sympathy and cutting insight, Ottoman offers a tour de force exploration of contemporary trans identity.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
EE Ottoman grew up surrounded by the farmlands and forests of Upstate New York. They started writing as soon as they learned how and have yet to stop. Ottoman attended Earlham College and graduated with a degree in history before going on to receive a graduate degree in history as well. These days they divide their time between history, writing, and book preservation.
Ottoman is also a disabled, queer, trans dude whose correct pronouns are: they/them/their or he/him/his. Mostly, though, they are a person who is passionate about history, stories, and the spaces between the two.
AN EXCERPT from Documenting Light by EE Ottoman
© EE Ottoman, 2016
The first thing Wyatt thought when he saw the apartment was that it was beautiful. The ceilings were high, with some orient patterning across each. The doorways in the living room were tall, sweeping arches, and every room had huge windows. There was a built-in bookcase and a fireplace in the living room, with a fireplace in the bedroom as well. The whole place was fresh-painted white walls and gleaming hardwood floors.
“Forget about Mom.” Jess turned in a slow circle in the living room. “I want to live here.”
“Yeah, if either of us could afford it.” Wyatt stuck his hands into his pockets and looked out the living room window at the tree-lined street.
Their mother was a different story. “It’s not the farm.” She ran her hands over the mantle of the fireplace in the living room, sidestepping the couch the moving men had left jutting into her path. Her big silver hoop bracelets slid and clicked against the wood. “How am I going to walk the dogs without plenty of outside space?”
“You’re not bringing the dogs.” Wyatt took her hands, turning her gently toward him. “Remember? We talked about this. The Baker boys love them, they’ll take good care of them.”
“And the farm?” She looked confused, but then they’d expected this. They’d been told the move would be hard and disorienting for her.
“Yeah, they’re running the farm now, and you’re going to live here, where you can be close to Jess and me.”
Timothy, Jess’s fiancé, staggered past, his small frame laden with boxes for the kitchen.
“And Timothy,” Wyatt added with a pang of guilt. He was glad Timothy was here, even if he would’ve preferred this to be family only. “It’s going to be good.”
She still didn’t look convinced, though.
“Come on.” Wyatt guided her over to one of the built-in bookcases, where boxes of books were already stacked. “Let’s get these books unpacked. You know how you want them organized.”
He opened one, and for a moment she stared into the box like she’d never seen its contents before. Then her face brightened. “Oh, yes. These are my books on herbal remedies”—she pulled out a handful—“and herb gardening. I see some about wild herb identification in here, too. They’ll each need to go together in their own sections.”
“Good.” Wyatt sat back on his heels as she sorted the books, placing each on the shelf. The doctor had told him that breaking the move into pieces that were manageable for her was the key.
“The rest of these books are on gardening?” She tapped the lid of the next unopened box.
“I’m assuming some of them are.” Wyatt ripped the tape off the box and opened it. “But your books on tree husbandry are probably here, too. So each their own section?”
“Oh, I have far too many books on those topics for them to be each their own section. They’ll have to be broken down further.”
“Then you’ll have to do it, and I’ll put books where you tell me to, but I don’t know this stuff well enough to sort them.”
“If you’d paid attention when you were growing up, you would know.” But she was smiling, that little teasing smile that said even though she had her mom voice on, she didn’t mean it.
It made Wyatt smile back, even as his stomach twisted because he hadn’t seen that smile in months and had begun to think he’d never see it again.
It was one of those things you had to let go of. Or at least that’s what he’d been telling himself.
“You two look like you’re doing good in here.”
He turned to see Jess in the doorway looking disheveled in her oldest clothes, curls escaping from the ponytail at the nape of her neck.
“Unpacking?” She smiled encouragingly.
“Yeah.” Wyatt waved his arm, taking in the open boxes and bookcase. “We’re doing good, organizing the books.”
She stuck her hands in her jeans pockets and walked over to look at what they had on the shelf so far. “Well, I think the moving people have gotten everything in.”
“I’ve been organizing by topic. Here, hold this.” He thrust a stack of books at Jess.
“You know what, Wyatt?” Jess obediently took the books. “I’ll help Mom here for a while if you want to move the boxes in the hall up into the attic. The landlord told us we could use the space up there for storage.”
“Sure.” Wyatt dusted off the legs of his jeans as he stood and headed into the hall.
Timothy was in the kitchen unpacking boxes of cookware. “You want to order Chinese sometime soon?” Wyatt leaned into the kitchen, hand braced against the door frame.
“Sure. Chinese sounds good.”
“I have to move some boxes into the attic, but when I get back I’ll order.”
Timothy nodded. “Tell me how much and I’ll pitch in.”
For a moment, Wyatt wanted to say, You don’t have to, she’s not your mother. But that would come out far harsher than he meant it. “Sure. I’ll let you know.” He ducked back into the hall.
His mother’s apartment was on the second floor. It took him a few minutes to find the door that led to the attic. Once he did, it wasn’t as bad as he thought it might be. The stairs and attic space were well-lit at least, not just by the ceiling lights but also from a circular window set into the front of the house that let the last of the day’s sunlight and warmth spill in It was dusty up there, but not dirty per se, and the floor felt sturdy under him, which made it about a hundred percent safer than the attic of the old farmhouse where he’d grown up.
Wyatt shifted the boxes one at a time up the stairs. It was hard to tell where to put them because everything in the attic seemed to be randomly arranged, without any clear way of identifying what belonged to whom. He opted to push his mother’s boxes back as far as they would go against the wall opposite the stairs—although he ended up having to stack them near the window simply because that was the only space left.
The closer he got to the window, the hotter it got, causing pricking points of sweat to break out along his arms and the back of his neck. His eyes began to water against the light and dust, and when he’d moved the last box up Wyatt sat cross-legged on the floor.
He should go back down and order Chinese or see how book sorting was going. Instead, he tipped his face back and closed his eyes, taking several deep breaths.
They’d been at the old house packing until one or two o’clock in the morning. Then Timothy had arrived with the truck at five. Wyatt’s limbs were heavy, the muscles in his back ached with every move, and they still had the entire apartment to unpack. He rotated his shoulders, trying to get the kinks out.
From the stairs, Jess’s laugh, loud and strong, drifted up, his mother’s laughter, too, thank God.
It was . . . strange, though, hearing them down there with him alone up here.
He stood up, trying to brush dust off his ass as he did, and didn’t realize he’d misjudged until pain exploded bright and hot behind his eyes. Wood, dust, and dirt showered down on top of him. “Shit!” He doubled over, hands going to the back of his head, which he’d rammed straight into a beam. “Fuck!”
The first shock gave way to waves of pain encompassing his entire head, bad enough to make his eyes fill with tears. He went back down onto his knees and for a moment thought maybe he should start screaming for Jess, who was a nurse after all. The pain was already lessening, though, so Wyatt just rocked back and forth while groaning pitifully.
Eventually, it diminished to the point that he could take his hands away, inspect them carefully for blood, and stand back up.
Some of the pink insulation had gotten loose right above where his head hit the beam, but otherwise nothing looked any worse for the wear. You weren’t supposed to touch insulation, if he remembered correctly, but on the other hand he didn’t want to leave pieces hanging out. He pulled the sleeve of his flannel shirt over his hand and tried to stuff the insulation back into the ceiling. Of course it didn’t go back in easily. Wyatt put his full weight behind it and shoved up arm first as hard as he could. The entire thing crunched, and then a large piece fell out, landing at his feet.
“Well, fuck.” Wyatt looked accusingly at the hole he’d made.
There was something behind the insulation. He reached up, fingertips brushing paper. He pushed his hand farther in until he could feel an edge and then pulled. The whole thing came away at once.
It was an envelope, one of the large ones people used to send papers in, brittle and already falling to pieces as he held it. It felt too light to contain papers. Wyatt opened it as carefully as he could.
There didn’t seem to be anything in there when he inched his fingers in, so he turned it upside down to be sure. He squeezed the bottom and shook the envelope several times. Something fell out and fluttered to the floor.
Wyatt bent to pick it up.
It was a photograph. Not a particularly large one, a little bit faded, the corners slightly tattered.
Two men sat, one darker skinned and one fairer, each on opposite sides of a table but facing the camera rather than each other. They wore matching dark suits and posed almost identically, with one hand resting on the tabletop. The light-skinned man’s legs were crossed, his pose more relaxed. His companion stared straight at the camera. He seemed almost nervous in his tense focus, in the way he held himself. Neither of them smiled, but there was something almost candid about the shot, as if the men were waiting for the actual portrait to be taken. As if the moment after this one, the fairer man had uncrossed his legs, sat up straighter, while his companion had loosened his pose, letting some of that energy go, sitting with more confidence. In this moment, though, the two were caught in anticipation.
The back of Wyatt’s neck pricked, and he turned the photograph over, but there was nothing to see there. He picked the envelope up again and inspected it. It was truly empty this time and also completely unmarked.
What kind of photograph got stuck in an envelope and shoved up into the ceiling of someone’s attic?
He looked at it again, the two of them sitting there, caught in that moment, both of them unguarded, their hands slid a little too close together on the table.
Maybe the better question was, What kind of photograph do you hide?
Wyatt stared for another second and then shook his head. It was probably nothing, just an old picture that had been forgotten about.
There was something about the two of them, though. His finger went to trace the shape of the fairer one, the angle of his jaw, the way the light outlined his face—it felt family in a way that resonated deep inside Wyatt’s body.
“Who were you?” He kept his voice low. “Were you hiding?”
There were, of course, the obvious theories, reasons a picture like this might be put away. He could imagine that they had been a couple. This one incriminating piece of evidence tucked away to keep it from being destroyed after the deaths of the people it portrayed.
Wyatt had never hidden being queer, but when it came to everything else, all he did was hide. The weight of passing through the world as something he was not was almost crushing sometimes. For people to look at him and see a man when he so clearly wasn’t felt like the worst kind of lie. It was like having an empty place inside of you, a rough, torn-out spot to be guarded, hidden, lied about. A bruise you could forget even hurt until it was touched.
Had they known?
He tucked the photograph into his breast pocket and descended the stairs to his mother’s new apartment.