Tonight he is intensely aware of the city: its ancient stones, the flat-roofed brick houses, threads of clotheslines, wet, bright colors waving like pennants, neem tree-lined roads choked with traffic. There’s a bus going over the bridge under which he has chosen to sleep. The night smells of jasmine, and stale urine, and the dust of the cricket field on the other side of the road. A man is lighting a bidi near him: face lean, half in shadow, and he thinks he sees himself.
Terrorist. That’s what they call me, but I am something worse: both successful traitor and failed saboteur. I want to die, for all of this to be over. For my last request, I asked to have paper and pen to write my last will and testament. They won’t let me have it, forcing me to use the mindsynch. Damned Traveler tech. Maybe they’re scared I’ll ram the pen up my nose, scribble on my brain, and cheat the hangman.
Wilson woke in bed, back to back with his husband, as warm morning sunlight crept around the room and settled on his face like a lazy cat. He tried to stay asleep, tried to block it out by nestling deeper under the covers, but it was no use. Now that he was awake, Unity would pop up the time and temperature in midair before him, and offer news updates and messages. The news would be filled with his name and today’s ceremony, and he’d heard enough about that for the last week.
Dear Fox, Hey. It’s Sahra. I’m tagging you from center M691, Black Hawk, South Dakota. It’s night and the lights are on in the center. It’s run by an old white guy with a hanging lip—he’s talking to my mom at the counter. Mom’s okay. We’ve barely mentioned you since we left the old group in the valley, just a few weeks after you disappeared. She said your name once, when I found one of your old slates covered with equations. “Well,” she said. “That was Fox.”
Skaters in black practice outfits swerved around Shelly. Her music was playing over the PA system. She had right of way. A scattering of figure skating fans sat in the rink’s hard, blue, plastic seats. Even to a practice session, some had brought their flags. Her mom sat near the boards and waved her US flag as though if only it had shook more fiercely last night, Shelly would have landed her triple Lutz-triple toe jump combination in the short program.
The bodies floating on the streets look fuller than Johnnyboy feels. They are pink and bloated, like the click-flash tourists who once inhaled the spirits of their cities. No one talks about the drownings, but Johnnyboy’s father sometimes puts his hands together and whispers to the newly baptized. The water carries sound much faster, he says, this is why no one has secrets any more. The tide brings in so many things: keyboards, used condoms, crucifixes, textbooks. The tide is how Johnnyboy finds a name—a faded basketball jersey, the number seven, Johnnyboy in purple lettering.
Year 1: I come into the world wet and squalling and ordinary, born of heterosexual bio-parents. Year 2: A flat photo shows me on my first birthday with a shock of red hair, wide green eyes, and an expression of distaste at the sticky white frosting on my fingers. My mother stands on one side looking not at all Jewish; my Goan, lapsed-Catholic father stands on the other.
Remember when I first see it while boating through the mangroves in Caroni Swamp. Was early morning—you coulda still see the flicker of a candlefly here and there. I was following a trail of dead tilapia floating belly-up in the water. Wasn’t the first time I see something like that—but not to this extent. Their lifeless bodies was washing up on the silt. Black halos of corbeaux circling overhead, like angels of death.
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself in his bed. He hadn’t been transformed into a gigantic insect. Disappointed, the small velociraptor started to weep. And braced himself to enter dreamtime again. Samsa was a member of that elusive caste known as the Oneironauts. Dream travelers—people who, since the dawn of time, were able to master their dreams and bend them at their will.
The doctor congratulates them. The baby is human, and healthy. Richard is on her instantly, bruising her shoulders with his joy, planting kisses on her forehead and neck and face. His—their—fortune is the five-month-old smudge in the grain of the sonogram, soft-boned and quivering and reassuringly feather-free. It’s been six long years: Years of cajoling, years of trying, years of navigating the risks. Now they are here.