Welcome Me (30 Stories – 4)

Um, yeah.  A story a day?  Right.  Maybe I’ll catch up tomorrow …  No matter.  As I said to a friend the other day: if I write 20 stories this month or 5, it’s still more than I’d have written if I hadn’t challenged myself. I was kind of wonderfully productive last week: in addition to what I posted here, I submitted two writing residency applications! It feels good to have done that for myself.  I always want to apply for things and then don’t follow through.  Not this time.  I have three more deadlines coming up over the next five weeks.  And wouldn’t it be beyond fabulous if I got one of these?

For tonight, let’s just keep our feet on the ground, shall me?  At the end of the month, I’ll be reading at Big Words, Etc. again.  The theme for this month is “bon voyage.”  Seriously, how could I resist, me with my trove of travel stories and such like? Of course, the moment I started thinking about writing, I had nothing to say.  Of course.

Happily, today started my month of writing prompts from the lovely and talented Lisa. That gives me a gentle push to get something going.  And so … tonight.

_____

I wake up in a new body and, as usual, with a blinding headache.  Never mind the stress of figuring out where and who I am.  Never mind not knowing what language will come out of my mouth when I speak.  Never mind the discomfort of already feeling that this time I am a man.  The real concern: what if I’m white?  It’s always the biggest struggle.  I’ve woken up in so many bodies, but none are as difficult as the bodies of white people.  In all these years, you’d think I’d have figured it out, but no.  It’s a skill I don’t seem able to build.

I lie several moments longer, staring up at the ceiling, certain now that I am male, feeling the awkward weight in my groin, the emptiness in my chest.  But I am reluctant to raise my hands, see my skin.

I focus instead on the throbbing behind my eyes. My changes are always met with pain that borders on migraine-strength. I close my eyes and press hard into the points above my lids, right against the bone. Some woman I was in Turkey learned that. I force myself to breathe slowly, deeply. I picture the pain — a white-hot fireball of glass and razors — shrinking and fading, from biting white to pale blue to quiet indigo, smaller and smoother, smaller still, gone.

At least I am alone.  Many times I come awake to find someone breathing gently beside me in the bed, or sitting watching me sleep.  It’s crazy, coming to consciousness and having to know how to be with another person when I don’t know what person I am. 

I fell asleep in a small town in western Connecticut, next to a man I hadn’t come to love, but who was okay.  I’d been with him for two months — she’d been with him since high school — and in that time I could see that he was kind if not exciting or intelligent.  He’d been genuinely concerned for her when I first showed up, even when I’d frightened him by acting in all kinds of non-standard ways.  Genuinely concerned — not thinking about how a problem of hers would impact him and how he could minimize his own discomfort.  That’s pretty rare.  Most wives and husbands just get angry when they get me.

I can’t put it off any longer.  I need information.  Obviously, I’m used to this.  I know I always manage.  Even as a man.  Even as a white man.  Still.  Knowing I’ll manage never makes this moment easier.  I lift my right hand. The relief at seeing my dark skin warms through my body. The sun on the back of my hand glints off of a wedding ring. So that’s a little more information. And the skin is old, a sketching of fine lines traces down my muscular forearm.  Just as I start to wonder where is the partner who attaches to my ring, I register that it’s on my right hand.  Am I a widower? A priest?

An alarm sounds beside me, and I fumble to shut it off. I knock several small things to the floor, one that keeps skittering away for a long minute.

The clock says 7:30 — it’s a beautiful, old-style clock, not some flashy digital thing. The time means there is something I’m expected to be doing. Why else set an alarm, why else get up early? If I’m a priest, maybe someone is waiting for me to hear their confession.  

I like the strength in this body, its deep blackness.  I refocus on the man I’ve become.  I can feel the lingering idea of him rippling under my skin — because it is mine now, and neither of us can do anything about that.  It’s time, now, for me to find my way out into this old man’s world, decide if I will acquiesce to or avoid whatever havoc I’ll be expected to create.   

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10 thoughts on “Welcome Me (30 Stories – 4)

  1. Sonia

    this is fascinating. what was the writing prompt that got you here? and of course i want to know more about this consciousness that hops (floats?) from body to body.

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  2. Stacie, this made me shiver. Oooooooooh I love it so much. BTW you noticed the group tumblr sets posts at anonymous by default? Group members can see who wrote what, but the public can’t. So when I read this on there I didn’t know it was you at first and was just thinking, “OMG THIS IS AMAZING” 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the amazing inspiration! I read the prompt as I was leaving my office for a meeting, and couldn’t stop thinking about how I wanted to start the story. Couldn’t wait for the meeting to hurry up and end so I could jot down the first lines. You know VONA’s doing speculative fiction this year, right? I was all set to apply for graphic novel, but …

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      1. Ahhh it’s such an honor to think I could have anything to do with that kind of electric inspiration. 🙂 I did see that, about the speculative fiction. I’m really glad VONA is branching out (and has the wherewithal to do so)!

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  3. both very entertaining and very impressive. Congratulations. I think the success of this story for me is linked to the body images and the basic kindness of the character who finds him/herself constantly in a new situation and does not want to hurt others. I like it that the character seems to be “sent” into these situations for some unknown reason. Like life itself, but with variety. I think this story is perfect just the way it is, and have some hesitation in thinking you should mess with it. I understand the urge to see who this character is, but the extended form risks losing the magic, or that’s what I think, anyway.

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    1. Thanks, Molly–
      I worry about losing the energy I feel in this little snippet if I keep writing … but I’ve kept writing. The character keeps coming back to me, and I keep jotting things down. I’ve got a couple of additional pieces now. We’ll see …

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