You Again

Metamorphosis

“No, I don’t mean it in like a metaphorical sense. I mean you’re literally, actually, a different person.”

You look in the mirror. Open your mouth. Check your gums.

“See?”

There’s no change whatsoever. It’s you there, staring back at you.

“I was halfway about to call the police, but then you got up and started talking. You still talk like you.”

You go back to looking in the mirror. You could use a shave. Other than that: fine. Other than that: you.

“Did you just read The Metamorphosis? Are you trying to Kafka me?”

“See? You used Kafka as a verb. It’s you.”

* * *

She refuses to be seen with you anywhere. People might think she’s cheating. You call off work. Try to make yourself scarce.

It comes in stages. Your nose. Your lips. Not quite right. Not quite you. She sees you.

“Your nose is back! Your mouth, kinda.”

As you change, so does she. She waits in anticipation like a kid on Christmas morning. You “change back” slowly, then all at once.

You stand in front of the mirror, her behind you, you somebody else.

“See? It’s you again.”

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Cafe Studies

café

It can be found in the girl at the cafe as she raises her oversized cup up past her eyes, the girl with a habit of cutting spirals into the skin of her thigh, seeing to herself nothing but a drain pulling her down but to her future husband something like a whirling galaxy. He’ll be surprised she hid it for so long, but she’ll say you get good at it after a while.

It’s in the crossed, jostling legs that jingle keys but not the reason for the jostling, the sarcoma that’s come back in the breast of his wife, occurring in less than 1 percent of breast cancer cases, but she’s got it.

There will be the barista hiding his trans identity from family and friends, dipping toes in water with adjusted pronouns, the liberal use of binders. Eschewing makeup, then cutting off his long locks, cringing when his family thinks it’s just a phase, one that’ll hopefully be over soon. As if he could just turn it off, delete the dysphoria, go back to being that little girl that you know his parents see, take it all back and become something that didn’t even exist back then. He knew who he was for as long as he could remember.

There’s the elderly woman whose husband fought in Korea and stayed there after the war, taking up with a woman he met and trying to pass off for dead back home, but word travels far, even from the Far East. She tore up the letters, the photos, all of it. She heard he’d just passed. They had a service back home, she was invited. His other woman didn’t go, just yesterday it was. Today she sits in this cafe, ordering a latte, wondering about memory and forgetfulness, about the undying passage of time.

There will be the man with a substance abuse problem, on parole for a DUI when he was ready to stay sober this time, wanted to, but his dealer got back in touch with him. He saw the same old people and cracked, went back to using. He’s wondering what will happen with his visitation rights after this charge, if he’ll be able to watch his boy grow up or will be shut out until he’s eighteen. And then what? Is he even considered a father at that point, or nothing more than a sperm donor? He was going to toss it all out before he was pulled over, give it all up after this one last high, but this high will cost him dearly. He’s waiting for his parole officer to come and relate his fate.

You’ll see the professor waiting for tenure, about to meet with the student he needs to discuss terms with, the professor so-called “happily married,” the student with text messages and pictures that could put him out of a job and marriage. They’ll be discussing terms of class passage, and the student doesn’t even know that he was going to give her an A before the blackmail. Now she might try for more, might collect hush money. This girl used to be the bully of the spiral-cut girl when they were much smaller than they are now, and the spiral-cut girl will consider cutting again when she gets home, replaying memories she buried deep. It was the student’s behavior that drove her to cutting in the first place, the student giving one of those false “Hi!”s now, the cringeworthy ones that are disgusting.

The professor was good friends with the soldier who went to Korea, the two of them growing up together in the cornfields of Indiana, capturing lightning bugs and making fake crop circles with tennis racquets strapped to their shoes.

The trans man will meet the substance abuser in the emergency room, both of them going to psych–the trans man for a dysphoric panic attack, the abuser for detox. They’ll chart their changes and recoveries over lunch, trading hospital food with each other and musing on the people they are, the people they want to become. The substance abuser will get the pronouns wrong at first, but after being told will get them right every time. They will trade numbers before they go.

The elderly woman will end up in the hospital shortly after the service of her once-husband, a pain in her chest that won’t go away. During the routine checkup, it will be discovered that she has cancer. She’ll become a close confidant of a certain woman with sarcoma, keeping her spirits up day after day, making it her life’s mission to cheer this woman and fight alongside her, war buddies they are, even sharing the same uniform of hospital green, bald heads to prove their solidarity.

All of these things will happen, but for now there’s nothing more than people in a cafe, sipping their lattes and trying to forget the passage of time.

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The Nature of Falling

portal

He woke up falling. The world around him, when he was sure he wasn’t blind and was seeing very clearly, was the color of ink blooming in the pocket of a pair of pants. He wasn’t certain, but he assumed he was falling at terminal velocity. He could only just make out his hands. They seemed to be more hinted at than fully existent.

When he attempted to turn to look up, there was a loud screeching in his ears that stopped him from trying. He wondered when he would hit bottom.

It occurred to him to pray. He wasn’t sure just who he should pray to, or how. He was born Catholic but had lapsed in his later years. He became a C & E parishioner and then nothing at all. He had had a brush with Buddhism. But then did the Buddhists pray? And if so, to whom? He might be wrong, but he didn’t think the Buddha was revered as a deity. There were the many gods and goddesses of Buddhism’s big brother Hinduism. Would any of them bother helping an old man falling into nothing?

Was he sure he was awake? They say pinch yourself to–yes. Very much awake.

Maybe there were walls just out of sight. If he could adjust his angle, maybe he could fall towards one of them. He attempted to adjust his body but was greeted with screeching once again.

Change. There it is, the change. He reached into his pocket and pulled out change. Tossed it as far as he could, and: Nothing. Either the walls were vastly far away or they were nonexistent. The old man ventured to guess the latter.

Was this some sort of punishment for sins unknown to him? Could this be his version of hell? He’d never really been much of a sinner, and falling didn’t scare him any more than it did the next man. That is to say there wouldn’t be a special reason for his hell to be falling forever. And besides, there weren’t any distant screams to be heard. But still, there was the screeching, strategically used to discourage peeking behind the curtain.

So someone or something was behind this. But who?

Could he be hallucinating, hearing the screeching when there’s nothing there? Or was this whole falling bit nothing more than a drug trip he couldn’t remember starting? But he hadn’t been on anything in years and wouldn’t start back up again now.

Isolation tanks. He’d read about them, about how they induced hallucinations by cutting off sensory input. But that wouldn’t explain not remembering ever stepping into one.

There. Memory. What’s the last thing he could remember? He found his memory to be like the ripped pages of a journal: He could remember last week, but anything more recent was ragged and missing.

He had gotten up, gone to work, gotten up, gone to work.

But then. There was a man. A man he met while sitting on a bench, watching commuters pass by on a bridge, stealing away at the sun climbing and blinding its way down into the river below. He could not know for certain, but he was sure he was thinking the same exact thoughts as the other man on the bench. They passed many minutes like that, saying nothing, only watching. Only thinking the same thoughts. The other man broke the silence first. He said his name was Mr. Black. That he’d been waiting for this man, our protagonist who is presently falling. It appeared they didn’t share the same thoughts after all. OP inquired what MB had been waiting for.

For you to fall into my lap. OP stared into MB’s beady eyes which were black marbles descending into nothing. He said…

Nothing. That’s all he could remember. Still he fell into nothing, the fall having not so much a sound as the absence of sound. He maneuvered so as to look up, bracing for the screeching sound. It never came.

What did come was the giant face of Mr. Black, laughing a laugh so deafening it seemed to shake the air all around OP. Mr. Black reached down into the hole and plucked OP by the leg. Mr. Black was the size of a planet, maybe larger. Each pore on his face could house an ocean. OP could feel the blood rushing to his head as he was being dangled.

The experiment is complete, MB boomed. He pulled OP out of the hole, and as he came out, MB became normal-sized again. Suddenly they were back on the bench, utterly normal. Mr. Black stood up, said Good day, and walked away.

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