You woke up female this morning, so now you have a choice: do what other people want, or be a bitch. It is a thing you know without precisely knowing it. The knowledge is built into the muscle memory of this miraculous new body; it is draped across the bones like a weight. You shudder, stretching your delicate female limbs beneath the unfamiliar, sun-drenched sheets. Female for a day, you think.
You have been trying to start a family. And failing. The problem, it will turn out, is with you. This is what they tell you at the fertility clinic at the medical center. The first thing, discovered during a physical exam, is that your testicles are smaller and softer than average. At the time of this revelation, your wife actually says to the urologist, in a tone of maternal defensiveness: “That’s strange, because I would say his penis is a little too big.”
It took James Washington forever, almost literally forever, to remember that his wife and children were as dead as he was. For a while, he barely even realized that he was dead himself. Heaven, for lack of a better word, is bliss, and as anybody who has known euphoria can tell you, bliss doesn’t always allow room for rational thought.
You’re just stepping into the crosswalk when the SUV screeches to a stop with its bumper six inches from your hip. It’s sleeting. It wasn’t sleeting when you left your apartment, so you’re wearing canvas sneakers with holes beside the little toes, where all of your sneakers always get holes, and you haven’t been able to feel your feet for six blocks. It’s been weeks since you got more than four hours of sleep.
It starts as a twitch. Or that’s what I thought it was. At first. A jitter in my thumb. Then it’s in my wrist, a jolt of energy running up my arm. All at once, too fast to know exactly where it had come from. There it is, I would start to think, but it was over before I had finished the thought, and there I was, gun in hand, smoke weeping from the barrel.
As usual, Win was late to work. Since he hadn’t had time to eat breakfast at home, he arrived at his office—tucked into the old wing of the hospital, now a maze of ancient files and obscure personnel—clutching a styrofoam vat of cafeteria coffee, a donut balanced atop it. He wore jeans and hiking boots and a wrinkled pinstripe dress shirt, from which his ID badge hung crookedly. “Winston Z, MDiv, LCSW, BCC,” it read.
Long ago, a woman in Bavaria had to peel some potatoes. She had to do the washing. She had to check on the soup that simmered on the stove and was never quite thick enough. She had to watch her smallest child where it lay wrapped near the fire and sweating, and watch her oldest daughter tying back her hair to look finer when she went to trade the day’s milk for some woolens from the merchant with the unmarried son.
Dear Sara: The official verdict that I am no longer classified as human arrived in a windowed envelope bearing the return address of the Bureau of Lineage Affairs. There is one envelope for me and one for you, although I haven’t opened yours. Except for the return address, these envelopes look like something from the bank, or perhaps an offer for home insurance, the kind we throw away.
In a dusty, antique-littered back room of the loft on St. Mark’s Place, a room with walls the color of ripe cranberries, Hannah stands naked in front of the towering mahogany-framed mirror and stares at herself. No—not her self any longer, but the new thing that the man and woman have made of her. Three long hours busy with their airbrushes and latex prosthetics.
When word came that the king had died, Kyros began packing his tools. Agathon had been a fine patron, commissioning statues and friezes for his capital’s many temples and his own palace, but his wife had no reputation for piety or art. He was surprised, then, when one of her pages delivered a scroll requesting his services.