for Jason Crye
Here I am, in my new body. My intent is to stay a bit longer this time. It becomes difficult, and dulling to the senses, to change from one form to another, almost too much, downloading into a new actuality until an idea takes form, a new shape. I am never born, I just appear. It’s a slow, rolling thing, similar to waking up for the first time. Pushing into new clothes, new fur, perhaps a different color. Eight inches high, sometimes nine, a triangular nose, strong legs, hollow bone filled with air, and mass, and blood, the ability to think without thinking. A tail to swat flies, flies are little cameras sent to spy on humans. Usually a different texture of the same form, but not always. I am allowed, within the confines of my position, to suggest what form I would like to take next, as human males are allowed to suggest to a military recruiter where they would like to be placed, but in the end, because he is much older than I, and has named the world, and knows everything in it, the master chooses for me…
Sometimes, at night, I’ll roam the apartment while the young couple is/are asleep. I’m still learning the rules of human language, things like his versus hers, is and are, things a simpleton ought to know. But I’m not really concerned with language, it’s more about passing. Down here, near the imitation wood flooring, things are different. I’ve lived on the ground most of my life. The master says once I have mastered this walking thing, this perfection of imitation, then perhaps I’ll finally be able to transfer into a human body, which is the ultimate, it is what I have wanted for so long. To stand on two legs, not four, to curl my fingers into a fist, to take what I want. The only thing left to decide is his versus hers, which form do I want to take? Do I want to take the entire world into the cleft between my legs, which is thrilling but also dangerous, or do I want to bounce the world on the tip of everything named violence, push against the boundaries of male and female, which is of course artificial, these are only words, the membranes themselves are very much the same—soft, warm, delightfully pungent. Again, it’s the import they place on the words, not me. Personally it all tastes the same to me, and I still don’t understand, after all these iterations, why humans insist on two sides of the same bald coin. The form doesn’t matter, the appendages, is it not a heart beating inside a chest, tucked safely under new bones, the same as mine, liquid as ancient as the ocean flowing in its veins? I’d spoken to a friend of this before, another shapeshifter, how I’d love to be a beautiful girl for one day, or one weekend, to feel the weight of a handsome man on me, pushing his anger and his beauty inside me like I was the most important girl in the world, and I would take to him like a girl takes to a horse, another animal I have hosted, our effort exhausted and slick with our lovemaking, my face swollen with the flush of a new body, new possibilities, a small life beating inside me moments after the liquid comes. And what would you do with this new creature growing inside you? my friend asked. Eat it upon birth, of course, both of us laughing. The master wouldn’t like that, the possibility of losing a soul. It’s only in jest, I said, my head warm with the possibility of argument, of contentment, but the sun was against my fur and I didn’t care to discuss the issue further. We both stood eight inches off the ground, the possibility of my enticing a beautiful male or female of the human species as remote as Venus, as cold as the surface of Neptune, a word I learned from a boy I was very close to, if only for a moment. But more on that later.
The days can be interminable. The waiting, listlessly nosing around in the bowl, pushing sustenance from one end to the other, the acrid horse meat greasing the tip of my nose. The woman usually arrives first, opens a can of sustenance, the same new boring old thing. I’ll jump into her lap as she sits at the dining room table, tapping a serum against loneliness on her device, my head resting on her mound. She is ready for child, but the man seems either incapable or unwilling to submit. Meanwhile I’m trapped at floor level, submitting to lowercase visuals, the batting of a sofa, the factory stamp and the PASSED sticker adhered to the underbelly of the dining room table, a cotton mouse I’ve batted around countless times in sheer boredom. It’s the man I wait for, he usually arrives closer to the evening hour, opens the door, removes his backpack, kisses the woman fully on the lips, as I would, had I had the capability, his hand probing the crescent between her legs, then places his device on the coffee table and picks up the remote to drown his wife’s voice, a barn door in a rainstorm. I jump onto his lap, kneading his testicles, his manhood, and the faintest stir brings pleasure for both of us. I often stare at him, directly in the eyes, his wood-brown eyes, and ask why no children, man? Isn’t this what you people do, make carbon copies of yourselves, into infinity, while nature groans? He stirs against me, and I nuzzle the exclamation point responsible for wars, rape, and murder. If I had such solid standing in the community, with two legs and two arms, you can bet I would be searching for a mate, a woman to carbon with. Still, I enjoy our shared secret, as he grabs his device and taps into it, the young couple in the same room, yet somehow not. Is spaghetti ok? Sounds good, he says, never looking up, and she moves from the dining room chair into the kitchen proper, and my eye travels from his useless mound to the sign suspended from the wall so inelegantly, WELCOME TO THE HAPPY PLACE, a stylized painting of Mount Rainier on a slab of wood, the pixelated dots various shades of grey, and I knead his penis with my claws, the fabric between decency and madness only a few millimeters, as if to say come on man, she’s waiting for you, and all I receive is a smack to the head before I am tossed to the floor in anger. I am a thinking animal, just as you are! Why the need for violence, dismissal? In a few hours, he will have all but forgotten my transgression as I figure eight between them for the night.
One thing I’ve learned is humans think they are important, that their conscience, and their consciousness, allows them to rise above, and judge, the lesser animals. I’ve learned not to rush things. I feed into this self-importance, acknowledge it, pretend it has weight. I move between their legs freely, making soothing noises, noises they like, my fur against their legs a calmative. To be acknowledged is to feel important, and I understand this, I understand humans need to feel important, that’s why I knead the young man or the young woman in privacy, not while they are together on the sofa, or in the kitchen. For most warm-blooded animals, the need for touch is a universal. I gained this knowledge on the first few iterations, the idea that touch feeds into self-importance, into recognizing another being in the room. What of animal consciousness, the need for touch, for sunlight, the desire for autonomy, to be held? What of the ever-present fear of death? To walk down an alley while dark shadows gather behind you? Humans only have the capacity to imagine themselves, not the other, and animal consciousness, the need for touch, the fear of death, the animal soul, none of this is considered a possibility.
What is it like to be inside a human? I ask my friend. It possesses a certain weight, he says. It’s wonderful to have a back straight enough to stand, hands that point to the sea or the sky, whatever you’re angry at, a heartbeat synchronized with a loved one, but to understand love, how that happens, would take so many iterations. But it’s wonderful to have the chance, to try to understand. Who was it? A girl, a human being girl, she was twelve years old. It was wonderful because she’d just started menarche, and I was there, inside of her, when it happened. The males in the classroom changed toward me. I began to take things literally, what’s inside you, what do you see, why is this hairbrush suddenly so beautiful. My instructor said always be wary of the word suddenly, but when I became a girl all that fell away. Sometimes, in class, I surreptitiously pushed my left hand under my sweater and pulled against my middle belt loop, then moved my feet, my legs, forward until I felt the ocean inside me, the vast great ocean, which is really one ocean, not four, as all humans are really one organism, not several, and I moved until waves crashed and a boy with dark hair asked my name. Did anything happen? Happen? Yes, with you and the boy? Oh no, twelve is much too young. But it didn’t matter. The fact that he said my name was enough.
The heat on the floor can be incredibly warm, especially near the ductwork humming behind the walls, the floor registers, the broiler drawer when the young woman attempts to make something the young man will not like. I poke my nose in the space behind the refrigerator, my keen sense of smell registering dust, and dull white grease of some kind, perhaps the grease on the moving parts of the machine, to help silence the whirring of an electric motor, my whiskers vibrating with its movement. I look up at the dining room table, a cheap Scandinavian concoction that arrived in a flat box. The young man spent hours putting it together, on a Saturday, cursing as he did so. I looked at the pictograms on the floor, black symbols on a cream slip of paper. After three hours, something resembling a table began to take shape. Wanting to congratulate the young man on piecing the table together, I figure-eighted between his legs, only to have him pick me up and throw me across the floor. I shook it off, I’m much too old for vengeance or jealousy. You don’t love me? Fine, I’ll take my love elsewhere.
There, up in the ether, near a leg, is the inspection sticker I remember looking upon that day, when the table finally became a table. Somewhere, something inside the collection of unassembled wood intuitively knew I am a table, I am a slab of wood and four precut legs and I know I am a table, just as, although my heart is only the size of a golf ball, I know intuitively I will someday possess a human heart, a heart that belongs to me, folded neatly in my chest beneath my ribcage, with no room to spare, like a foreign automobile with the bonnet raised, I am a boy, I am a girl, this is my heart, beating in my chest, it beats for everything I have loved and lost, for every being I spoke the words to, I love you, only to hear nothing in return, to be thrown across the floor, down near the heat vibrating through the wall, I am here, I love you, and yet you ignore me, my triangular nose, my green eyes. When I finally possess two legs, when you see yourself inside me, a carbon copy of the night you said yes, when you managed to say I love you, and somehow mean it for fifteen minutes, will you love me then? Does love cost that much? You hold it in your chest as if it were the most valuable thing in the world, not wanting to part with any of it, yet I have been here much longer than you, I have seen much more than you, and I give of my love freely. Look me in the eye and explain to me why your love is so valuable, so difficult to share? I will wait patiently for the words to issue from your lips.
Numbers are important. Two lives lost, three lives taken. Two bowls, one for water, one for sustenance. Fifty-seven inches tall, because five plus seven is twelve, twelve is comprised of one plus two, two plus one is three, and three is a magical number. I stand eight inches off the ground. Eight is my favorite number. If you turn eight on her belly she becomes infinity. I often make the number eight before settling into bed, between my two humans. Sometimes I’ll make the eight three or four times, a kind of Fletcherism of the soul. I settle in, my head resting on a leg, a mound, the moonlike curve of buttocks. My humans’ bodies make noises at night, a belch, an expulsion of air from the most special of places, the scent reminding me we are all base animals, it’s just some of us can stand. My master’s voice, reminding me again, if you get this right, this time, you’ll host a human body on the next round. Oh, the gorgeousness of it! The succulent promise! To bend, on two legs, creased perfectly in the middle, with two arms, reaching for a ball, a fuzzy plaything, another friend in disguise. Who are you hosting these days? Oh, you know, just another young dumb couple. They’re nice, though. At least they smell good. How are they with burying your nose in the ether? The young woman is tadpole shy, whereas the man, he’s ok with it. I find him a bit perverse. We whisker each other, then break apart. Go on—perverse how? Sometimes when the young woman is in the kitchen, or on her device, pecking to another human, the young man will allow me into his lap, and I’ll lay my head on the part that grows and pulses under my chin. He’ll scratch my head, caress it with his fingers, and force my head to stay on the warm spot, as I feel him growing. I’ll look into his eyes, and communicate with him, I know what you’re doing, I know who you are. Do you ever reach them? Oh yes, definitely. I remember once being host to a family with a young boy, he was about eleven or so, and he picked me up and tucked me, the family animal, into his briefs, stroking my fur until, quite unexpectedly, the warm milk came, for the very first time, as surprising for him as it was for me, my fur glistening with liquid guilt. It was marvelous. But that was so many iterations ago. Who are you hosting now? Is it whom or who? I don’t know, I never keep up with these rules. I’m hosting an old woman, nothing as fun as your young couple. She smells bad. She makes a terrible racket when she stands, mangles items in the refrigerator like a newborn. She’s going to die soon, I can smell it. From natural causes? Yes, I’m afraid so. Where’s the fun in that?
Before the young couple, there was the family. Another couple, not quite into their forties, but not young either, with two human children, a girl, ten, and a boy, aged eleven. The girl did not take to me, for some reason, which is unusual as girls almost always take to animals. Perhaps she suspected something wasn’t quite right with me, perhaps she asked is this _______ doing this on purpose, and for what? Being a child, she was closer to the truth than her parents, adults being adroit liars, their heads filled with smoke, chasing a reality that doesn’t exist, will never exist, a house in the woods by a stream filled with silver darting fish. There was a time when I wore my skin like an old familiar coat, the fabric hugging my body as if I’d slept in it overnight, like a quivering addict wondering if this is the end, the velveteen smooth against my skin, more of a dressing than fur, as if I’d finally become, down through the ages, what I was meant to be. But I made a mistake, the skin curled and blackened, and I shook, cold and formless, before the master. Don’t do this again.
The boy was named Sam, and he took to me instantly, like the friend at recess who loans you a dollar. We would talk to each other, for hours, in his bedroom. They were well-to-do, and suffered a proper upbringing, the boy and the girl with separate bedrooms, as one would hope when one is eleven, the unruly demon of sexuality storming around a child like the great red spot of Jupiter. He stood as an eleven year old does, tall, slick-witted, with a foot large enough to cause damage if so desired, but I trusted him completely because he was evil, a masturbator and a pyromaniac. He did not have the milk yet, but he would before I left, asked to leave, so abruptly, as is often the case with my hosts, and sometimes, when I become too comfortable, I forget who is the host and who is the guest. I would sit on his coverlet as he tapped into his device, taking pictures of his milkless tail, sending it to friends, the friends comparing tails, whose is largest, the funniest shaped, things human males giggle at when fifty-seven inches tall, I observed all this, with the bedroom door closed, as one would observe a wiggling infant in an incubator, intubated, helpless, its gaudy sex exposed to nitrile hands, the poking, the prodding, the needles. I lay next to him as he pulled on himself for hours, the milk never coming, death not yet his, his parents blissfully ignorant, their noses buried in their devices as they lay separately together in their colorless bedroom.
He showed me the screen from time to time, as if intuitively knowing I understood, and I, the innocent, humming under his chin, moving to the window, staring outside while he looked at flesh-smeared images on a three by five screen, staring out the window, wondering what my friend was doing in the house three doors down, with his humans, and the boy picking me up from time to time, me figure-eighting into oblivion, until the coverlet was just so, and the boy running to the kitchen in his boxer shorts, returning a few moments later with a package of thinly-sliced meat in his hand, partially devouring it, fingering a jagged square into my mouth, then rubbing his small milk tail with the sliced meat and forcing my mouth onto him, and me deciding, perhaps at that moment, that this is what he would be doing, chasing pleasure, for the next thirty years or so, and at first it was fun, but then I quickly grew bored and bit into his flesh, which simultaneously increased his agony and desire for me. When the milk finally came, a few months later, the human boy Sam grew tired of me, as if I were a sister, or a toy one abandons after a certain age, plastic cars, things that spin incessantly, noisemakers that exist for no other reason than to irritate me. And the master’s voice, always in my head, do not injure the boy, for someday he will mate, and thus, another soul. I asked the master if I could possibly circumvent the process, haven’t I been good? Haven’t I been a faithful public servant? If you must ask, the master said, let that be your answer.
I asked the master to place me with a teen couple, or a couple in their early twenties, a tiny fist growing inside her, moving, kicking, struggling against the warmth to which it would someday wish to return. All humans seek a warm dark room for hiding secrets. You must first master how to walk like a boy before you enter the body of a man, the master said, and of course he is right. Still, the iterations, the constant, dutiful iterations, are tiring, and sometimes I wish to stop, to stop completely, and rest in a meadow, in an alley, on blunt blades of green grass, freshly hewn in summer, anywhere where there is an absence of humans, their community draining, soul-destroying, and whether I am fifty-seven inches tall or sixty-two, it does not matter, time has a way of polishing even the most beautiful stone into a dull grain of sand.
I’ll place you in a home with children, a boy and a girl, the master said. Observe the boy. If you observe him without any harm, without being detected, then we will speak of transference, as I always speak of it with you. If it is your desire to occupy a human body, a man’s body, you must first learn what it means to be fifty-seven inches tall, or sixty-two, or the like. You must first learn what it means to be small before learning what it means to be large. A man isn’t born a man, he is slowly cobbled into that unique form of servitude. And human beings do not pay attention to their children, and yet it is your strange desire to be among that invisible class. If this is truly what you want, show me you can be small, first. One must fall to climb.
The boy Sam died under mysterious circumstances, as I mentioned earlier, two lives lost, and I was relieved of my duties for a short time, watching other shapeshifters, going on outages with them, master shifters, the master said, animals who possess their own tails and know how to comport themselves in a proper manner, by which the master meant undetected, and so I briefly became an apprentice again, the master not allowing me possession over any soul, any dumb animal, until I gained further knowledge. At first I was recalcitrant, and doubtful of the master’s decision. I even dared question, in a moment of stupidity, why me, as I have heard several humans say to themselves. The master, rather than becoming angry, as I suspected, laughed at my lazy innocence, as if I myself were a child, and not a thing over a thousand years old, if such things are properly measured. The master took me aside as one would a dull and petulant child, and reminded me of the greater good. You will learn when you are open to it, and I could only agree, his wisdom as solid and immovable as the white-capped mountains I find myself surrounded by, it is forever cold here, and grey, and always raining, and so I said thank you, I will observe, I will learn, and the master said Yes you will, I know you have it within you, everything you need is within you, and like that, I was dismissed, an apprentice once again, forever the apprentice.
The shapeshifter I was appointed journeyman to quickly became my friend. The master saw it as punishment, me being the apprentice once again, yet I found it to be just the opposite, my friend and I quickly becoming inseparable, the eight-pawed bromance of a lifetime. We were both eight inches off the ground, a respectable height in my field, and we both had tails, beautiful tails, and fur that reflected the light of the sun. He was lighter than me, a mix of colors, a coat sewn by a blind person. I was darker, almost black, with green eyes. It fits you, my friend said, being such a failure, appearing the hapless criminal. His paws were slightly larger than mine, better for holding the tails of vermin. At first I felt a slight anger, wanted to object, but then I remembered fifty-seven inches, that was my goal, I wanted to become a boy, a human being boy, to be able to bend to retrieve a toy, a piece of marred homework, a stick for breaking things. I laughed and said you’re right, I have been a failure, so many iterations of the same thing, and here I am, in my new body, still trying to please a father who would rather look into a mirror than see my face.
Lounging in the sun with my friend before lunch was quickly becoming one of my favorite things. A man can have two homes, yes? A home you live in and a home you visit? He was my second home. I’m just here for the good times, I said, and we both laughed, my friend and I, we laughed as we walked through an alley that reeked of urine and feces, human. It was the city of emeralds, and the homeless population was massive, an endless miserable stream of human failure. A few of the more questionable ones used their children as props, we need to eat, that kind of thing, but that didn’t concern me, I am only an iteration of failure, and what could I do? I stand eight inches high, nine on a good day. I walked slightly ahead of my friend, and as an automobile rushed through the alley my friend called ahead of me to watch out, as humans are notoriously cruel, and would rather run me down than see me live. I appreciated my friend’s concern, we brushed whiskers and moved smoothly along the wall, avoiding the muck, the urine, the feces, chips of battered cardboard, abandoned signs, WILL WORK FOR BEER, at least the old boy had a sense of humor, my friend called out behind me.
When we reached our destination, an open door behind a fast food Mexican restaurant, we stood next to a cement stoop, two steps, and I figure-eighted three or four times before settling down next to the cement steps. My friend soon followed. The back door of the restaurant was open. A screen door, made of metal, framed in black mesh, the design two peacocks facing each other, prevented us from entering the rear of the restaurant. It smelled wonderful. We waited patiently for one of the almond-eyed Mexican women to open the screen door and place a bowl of milk before us. On days when the supervisor wasn’t in the restaurant, my favorite woman would place a second bowl filled with shredded or ground beef next to the bowl of milk. While my friend elegantly nibbled on the meaty nuggets of flesh I paid compliment to the woman by rubbing my body against her lower calf, humming as I did so, waiting patiently for the inevitable stroke of fingers against the top of my skull, the woman’s touch almost too much, more sustenance than the gift of meat spread before us, if you can believe. In my present form food is necessary, yes, but touch even more so. I understand why humans want to stay on the planet for as long as possible before drifting off into, well nevermind. She pleasantly stroked my head a few more seconds before retreating back into the noise of the restaurant, a squat, solid woman, shorter than fifty-seven inches, her device in her left back pocket. Humans were never far from their devices, almost as if they were a second heart, a second brain, a third eye. When the screen door slammed shut with a most unpleasant noise I turned away from the wall and made my way to my friend, he moved slightly and I pushed my nose into the bowl. We both fed from the same bowl, as always. We are two beings of similar size and stature eating from the same source, our hearts inches apart, beating under our bones, our paws firmly on the ground, the asphalt cool against our padded feet, and I wonder why I would ever want to leave this body, with a friend near me and food given freely and without expectation of anything in return, the simple act of pulling air into my lungs, my bones hollow yet strong, and a back that can skulk, spring, or crouch in an instant. I liked my friend, appreciated his patience with me, the slowest of learners. My whiskers brush against my friend’s whiskers, we are hyperaware of everything, the smallest movement registering in our brains, a pigeon flying overhead, a human sneezing in the doorway of the cannabis dispensary, and the food is soon gone, and like proper guests in a host’s body, we do not lick the bowl, for even when one has four paws on the ground and a swayed back, one must still act respectably. You never know who may be watching. I think it’s your turn to nuzzle tomorrow, I say, she prefers you to me. Of course she does, my friend says, she ain’t blind.
A grey neighborhood in a grey part of the city. Even the fresh-headed flowers were dirty. We were both savagely drunk on alfalfa, and in a moment of weakness, my drunkenness going to my head, I asked him how he had become a master shapeshifter. It’s quite simple, he said, his eyes half-closed, lazy, perhaps dreaming of females he would like to couple with, even at his age. I possess the ability to move in my body as both boy and girl, to come like a girl, to shoot liquid fire like a boy. It has taken several years of practice, but I have finally mastered it. This is called possession. Yes, but how? I have watched boys and girls as well, and adults of all sizes, and I still don’t get it. I feel dumb, and lost. Don’t quantify yourself like that, it’s an insult to our profession and our knowledge. You’re not dumb, you’ll get it, my friend, it just takes time. Humanity didn’t crawl from the muck overnight, the spores did not bloom in one evening, and there are so many variables, the husband who says I love you to his wife each night while thinking murderous thoughts, what if I were to bite off her nose while we lay in bed together, scarring her for the rest of her natural life? The woman who sees her child as a suitcase she’d rather open than unpack, a boy kicking a dog when he thinks no one is watching, how can one expect to learn all this overnight? And their tools, they have so many fine tools to master, hands to grasp devices with, five fingers to test on five different women, perhaps the occasional handsome man, we know how they like warmth, and their terribly fast moving machines that gobble fuel like water, who can master all this useless finery? You’ll learn it, my friend. I hope so! We lay on the damp grass, always damp, near each other, then he got to his feet and moved quickly up three steps and onto the porch of a grand house, a three-story structure, almost a city unto itself. I followed, batting my tail at the empty air, and we both settled near the door of the great house, eyeing the apartment house across the street as the sun slowly died behind tall black pine trees. You’ll get it, he said once more, and this time I almost believed him.
The young couple, the young woman, is with child. A small fist grows inside her belly, a stupid being that will push through the membrane of flesh that separates the living from the dead. He or she, those silly words again, will grow to adopt her parents’ irrationalities, prejudices, behaviors. We do not come into the world as blank slates, despite the propaganda, our destinies chosen while still growing inside our mother’s belly, hazily deciding what we will become, as if there is ever a choice, and when a fat and lazy instructor asks a question of a classroom filled with children, what do you want to become, the hands shoot into the air in collective stupidity, elbows straight as planks, nearly snapping, me, me! I was amazed the young man had it in him, had the ability to mate. I was doubtful, wondering if perhaps he were turned, or damaged in some way, but no, he finally convinced his milk tail to cooperate, to shoot another life into the ether, humans seemingly expanding forever outward, their colonization nearly complete. Perhaps he was thinking of someone else as he looked the young woman in the eyes? The master was quite happy, and thanked me for my perseverance, which I listened to, I will not lie, with a certain amount of pride. When this child is born, we will see, the master said, and I saw before me a great buffet, the tables stretching for miles, the finest cutlery laid out on white cloth, the ecru plates reflecting my green eyes, empty champagne flutes filled during the grand announcement, after all these iterations, my first successful human possession. After listening to my friend, I did not care whether I was a boy or a girl, I wanted to move as a human moved, the gender irrelevant, the height a contained space my essence would eventually acclimate to. Height, gender, weight, none of these details mattered. I would finally be human. It’s all I’ve ever wanted.
I’ve never mentioned my name. I have many names, I’ve hosted many forms. Too much importance is placed on a name. A name doesn’t define you, though it allows others to conjure some sense of who you are. A name is a form of magic, though no one ever talks about it. Language defines the world, makes it real, and the most basic unit of language is our name. Some might call me a manifestation, others, an idea. But the simple truth of it is, I am whatever I need to be to get through the day.
It’s a boy, the young woman said into her device, it’s a boy! I gathered through subtle details that the woman was talking to her mother. Yes I’m sure, the sonogram confirmed it. The young woman said yes, yes, of course, though I heard her privately tell the man she wanted a girl as her first child, followed by a boy. The man said it didn’t matter, as long as the child was healthy. Now it seemed those desires were stripped away, stored in a box in the closet, and the young woman was very excited about her soon to be son. It seems so far away, December is so far away!
The young man began paying more attention to the woman as her body expanded into the world, her stomach containing a new universe, a new me. How would the master do it? I thought of these things occasionally, but never asked. Those who ask too many questions open themselves up to scrutiny, and I wanted to be left alone, to be blissfully ignored. To lay in a high place, unobserved, while observing everything, is best. I watch the small arguments, the petty disagreements, the handholding on the sofa, from my perch atop the wobbly Scandinavian bookcase filled with heavy computational manuals, and I am perfectly happy to be invisible. The young couple feed me, trust me, allow me to figure eight between them on the bed, and now that the child is imminent, I am happily ignored, awaiting the birth, the flesh growing into a recognizable force each day, the nailbeds at twelve weeks, the walnut of the testicles, dark hair that will soon be mine, a recognition of the mother’s voice imprinted on the child’s brain at twenty-six weeks, the cephalic presentation at thirty-two. It is only late October, yet already I can sense my essence pushing into its fingers, its fingers soft against my temples, the heft of malehood between my legs, the rush of the dark ocean in my ears. I will be blind for the first few weeks, but I will know her voice, and I have been blind before, I am not afraid of it. To crawl, to stand, to walk, to feel the earth on two feet, that is all I wish for, all I have ever wanted, and yet the days pass agonizingly slow, as if the master were testing me. I await my new flesh and my new name, patiently. I lay on the windowsill, the sun warming my back, and watch humans pass by, unnoticing. I will soon walk among them.
I am very close to becoming. I will forget language, in my new form, but I will slowly relearn it again, with opposable thumbs as companions. I am my own ocean, I ignore news from the four corners of the earth, I listen to no one’s voice but my own. I am preparing to shed this ridiculous body and enter a new one, the cathedral of the unborn child’s skull my own, to house my words, my thoughts. I am my own animal, completely and fully alive. A name comes to mind, you can almost see it, but it is unformed, unspoken. If you concentrate long enough, you will remember it is the name of your first love, from long ago, a name you can only conjure in ultraviolet light, under the stars, a wasp’s nest under the eaves of the house vibrating with black doom. You wish to be born, to be born fully, with slick black hair and soft brown eyes and delicious pink nailbeds, but there is a fermata, a slight hesitation before birth.
I blame the Scandinavians. Asleep on the wobbly bookcase, the sun streaming through gossamer curtains, my brain melting, an orange creamsicle on a summer sidewalk, melting into a dream, an upright dream, a dream in which I could walk, and run, and hold my hands to the sun, and count the change in my pocket, when the vacuum cleaner awakens me like a terrorist, splitting the sky in two, the scream of a jet aircraft, and I am so terrorized I jump from the bookcase to the floor, the bookcase toppling onto the young woman, and I know, in the arch of my back, in the pink cotton candy of my brain, that the child, the new me, is newly dead, crushed by python, quark, java, plasticated sleeves extinguishing the life from me before I am born, small fingers that will never curl around my mother’s fingers, my eyes never looking into her eyes, as she measures my growth against a doorjamb, fifty-seven inches tall, tossing a football with my decades portlier father, my first kiss, my first driving test, the girl I took to the prom, my best friend and I listening to records in my room, my first day at university, all this gone in an instant as I run to the kitchen to squeeze behind the refrigerator, hiding from the awful screams, the scent of dull white grease partially allaying my fear.
The authorities open the door and I stroll into the sunlight, black, beautiful, undetected, not bothering to look behind me, if you look behind you, you appear guilty, and I recall the young woman in the new apartment, with the friendly smile on her face, the woman who is single, and alone, and wanting a man but not quite knowing how to acquire one, these things take time. I think I’ll walk to the door of her apartment, scratch the threshold, make the noises and the faces humans like, my triangular nose wet with expectation. She will open the door, notice I am uncollared, look me in the eyes, invite me in, gingerly pick me up and hold me in her smooth, talcum arms. And I will allow her. I’m ready for new adventures.
THIS IS KING
by Charles J. March III
... Then Jesus saved sour wine, saying, THIS IS KING ...
by Jan Stinchcomb
... It's strange to see your own space abandoned, in black and white. I leaned in to get a better look but it was all wrong ...