Coed – episode 2

This is episode 2 of a short story about fusion – two persons coming together to share one body.   If you haven’t yet read episode 1, start here.

When consciousness returns, May finds it cluttered, like a room in which she can’t find something she’s looking for.  Adrift in the jumble, she clutches at anything familiar.  She knows she’s in the lab – she remembers the looming, blinking machines.  Other, more important things are hidden.  She can’t recall her age.

She used to sail with her dad up and down Ghost Lake, in strong winds.  If she was scared, she only needed to look at his face.  He grinned at the sun and wind, embracing any weather.  He worked in forestry.  The memory of a year ago chills her, like a snow cloud blown over the sun.  A sudden headache at breakfast, her mother said.  Then he doubled over and vomited on the floor.  How could that happen?

The enormous prickly helmet, she notices with relief, has been removed.  Stretching, wriggling her toes, she grows annoyed that no one is there to attend to her.  She cranes her neck, looking for her clothes.  She can’t remember what she wore to the lab.

I am now familiar with the entire literature on hemispheric specialization, she thinks, to comfort herself.  Or most of it anyway.  I’m a leading expert in computational neuroscience.  Now I know descriptive and inferential statistics, and ASL. She pictures Nina and Tina going through their intricate routines.  But the meanings are as dark as ever.  I don’t know ASL! she realizes in astonishment.  Didn’t Jerry know it?

There was never enough time, she answers herself defensively.

Nervous, she wishes Sam would come with her clothes – whatever they were.  She vaguely recollects a purple departmental T-shirt, which needed washing, with a picture of a nerve cell.  But that wasn’t mine! She even remembers its sour smell as she pulled it over her head.  It must have been mine. And down, over her flat, sparsely-haired chest….

She sits up in panic, yelling for Sam.  “Where are you, numb-nuts?  She’s getting hysterical!”  What am I saying? The sight of her own breasts, exposed, is at once reassuring and threatening.  She pulls the sheet up and closes her eyes, afraid to look between her legs.

Sam has come – awkward, faithful Sam.  Nitwit, leaving me alone like that! She knows Sam better now – knows he’s smarter than he seems.  But it would be a mistake to let him know it.  After all, he’s just a graduate student, hopelessly inadequate in many ways.

Sam asks how she’s feeling.

“All right.” May struggles to regain her dignity.  “It was weird there for a minute.  Get my clothes, will you?”  Suddenly it feels appropriate to order Sam around.

May Jensen, she tells herself when Sam is gone.  Born August 5, 1998.  Age 21. The numbers are coming back; her thoughts are sorting themselves out into their proper compartments.

With relief, she recognizes the jeans in the clothes-bag Sam brings back, and the delicate green sandals.  The thong panties are definitely her own – although they make her skin crawl.  My first time in drag, she thinks with a squeamish snicker.

“Where’s Jerry?” she asks Sam. to distract herself.

“Who do you mean?” Sam’s voice is very quiet.

What did you say?”  She is surprised by her tone of outraged authority.

“He went home.  To pack.”

“Not for Europe?”

Sam nods, checking his phone.  “He should be over Greenland now.”

Good! flashes through her mind.  I hoped he’d go through with it.

But I’ve got to see him.  He said he’ll stick around!

No, he’s the last person I want to see.

May finds her own vacillation unsettling.  “I think I’m going crazy,” she tells Sam.  “Nobody in psychology talks about going crazy, I must really be nuts!”

May, May, it’s all right. The tone of her inner voice is reassuring, parental.  Everything’s going according to plan.

Like hell!  Jerry promised to be here!

That’s not fair, May.

Not fair?  When he’s buggered off to Europe?  How am I supposed to cope with this on my own?

Jerry’s a responsible person.  He’ll look after you.

From four thousand miles away?  Why am I defending him?

There’s no need to get angry.

Angry with who?  Why am I thinking this way?

“What’s going on?” Sam peers at her worriedly.

She brushes hair out of her eyes. “Voices”.

“You hear voices?”

She shakes her head firmly.  “Only my thoughts.  But they’re in different voices now.”

Remember, I’m a sick man – or was, until you saved me, May.

Who saved what? “God, I’m screwed up!” she tells Sam.  “Give me the propofol.”

You, May, saved me, Jerry, an inward voice patiently explains.

Oh.  Oh, I get it.

There’s no need to be afraid, May.  Try not to be.

I’ll sue!  No I can’t, I signed the paper.  Get out of my head!

You’re over-reacting. The voice has taken on an anxious edge. You’re making it harder than it needs to be.

I’m crumbling.  Look, my whole body’s shaking.  When was I born?

1979.

She becomes conscious of a past, a jumble of growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, wearing a lip-stud, dope, grunge rock, scolding mother, first job delivering pizzas, first academic appointment, nose-bleed from bullies in elementary school, shouting match with dad, first date, first feel, first…

She hears herself screaming.  Watching apprehensively, Sam nods to Heinrich, who jabs her with a needle.

*  *  *

They decide to go to her place, since they can’t go to his – Carole is there.  May drives.   Jerry finds adjusting to May’s body harder than he imagined.  His motor control is at an infantile level.  Her unrelenting anger is no help.  All the way, they carry on a furious, silent fight.

I don’t understand your attitude. Jerry is aggrieved.  I thought you wanted this.

What I wanted, she informs him, and expected, was to gain your abilities.  I wanted to be as impressive as you are at conferences.  I didn’t want you!

Look out! A blaring truck nearly clips the rear bumper.  You blew a stop sign, dumb bitch, you could’ve killed us.

May hits the brakes and pulls over.  Let’s get one thing straight, she avows.  This is my body.  I hate back seat drivers.  If you don’t like it, just get out!

They agree to drop the subject.  But even that minor pact is difficult to keep.  Impassioned thoughts, they find, are harder to hold back than speech.

The sight of May’s kitchen reminds them they have had nothing but IV fluid for thirty hours.  May raids the fridge with enthusiasm.

What are you making? Jerry frets.  Not avocado sandwiches?  I don’t like avocado.

That’s why I’m making them.

May, he pleads.  We’ve got to cooperate.

I’m not giving up avocado for your sake, Jerry.

There has to be give-and-take in our relationship.  It’s like a marriage.

Sardonic laughter grips her.  Marriage!  Jerry, you’re cute.  Please understand I won’t swallow any more of your lines. She bites into the sandwich.  Now, isn’t that good?  Come on, admit you’re enjoying it.  You’ve got new tastebuds now.  Your old ones went to Europe.  I’ll convert you to avocado, Jerry.  I’ll convert you to lots of things.  My body’s on my side.

There is a moment of uncomfortable emotion.  Let’s not talk about sides, Jerry hopes.

No?  You started this game.

It’s not a game.  May! Impressed by the note of earnestness in his inner voice, Jerry finds words to reinforce it.   I was dying, remember?  You were my only hope.

A thought strikes her.  Would Carole have done it for you?

Jerry laughs ruefully, conjuring memories of Carole’s self-containment, her sardonically witty put-downs of his occasional expressions of feeling.  You know she wouldn’t have.  You’re a kinder person than she is, May.

May chews on this characterization.  Comparisons are odious, she reminds him.

I’m sorry I didn’t prepare you properly.  I honestly thought I had.

She judges that to be true – by Jerry’s standards.  I guess we’ll have to make the best of each other.   How about a drink – to cooperation? She takes a bottle from the fridge.

With all my heart…eee! Jerry’s inward scream pulls May’s face taut.  Not local wine!

It’s all there is.  Remember, I survive on a grad student’s stipend.

I refuse on principle!

Don’t be such a snob. May pours a glass of bubbly, and spills it.  Goddamn you, Jerry!

I told you I won’t touch that stuff.

My jeans are soaked!

I tried to put it down on the counter.

Spastic! May stamps off to the bathroom.  You better not try anything at all until you learn some control. She pulls off her jeans and runs cold water on them.  Then she needs to pee.  On the toilet, she is aware of Jerry’s cringing embarrassment at the unfamiliar, unmasculine sensation.  Get used to it, she thinks brutally.

In the kitchen again in her underwear, May grasps the wine bottle with both hands.  Don’t try anything.

Go ahead and swill it. Jerry’s tone is injured.  Your tastes will improve when you’re older.  I wish you’d put some clothes on!

The first tingling, heady swallow buoys her confidence.  Jerry MacFarlane, she says to herself.  To think I was so impressed by Jerry MacFarlane. Jerry maintains an alert mental silence as another sweet mouthful passes unhindered to their shared stomach.  Marriage! she goes on.  That’s a laugh.  What about Carole, you creep?

I’m not married to Carole, Jerry replies cautiously.

Sure, but how do you feel about walking out on her?  You lived with her – jesus, nearly ten years!  Now I can see her face when you came home from a weekend with one of your students.

With you, May.

Yeah, with me. The bottle glugs twice.  It wasn’t fair to her, Jerry.  We weren’t fair.  I see that now.

Carole isn’t a jealous person, Jerry argues.  She shares my view that sexual jealousy is pathological.  Carole led a seminar on the subject.

What else could she do?

I didn’t make her lead the seminar.  Besides, she had other friends too.

In self-defence.  And not as many as you.

Jerry thinks a martyred sigh.  I fail to see the point of our discussing Carole – hey, who’s there? The apartment door has opened a crack; thick fingers curl around the edge.

“May?” a male voice intrudes.

“Wait a sec!”  She runs into the bedroom.  It’s Mark, she informs Jerry while pulling on her robe.

Who the hell’s Mark?

Recollections of mountain hikes, the smell of larch needles and fresh sweat, irreverent jokes, flood their mind.  She hasn’t thought about Mark for days.

You never told me, Jerry complains.

“Come in – pour yourself some wine,” May calls.

“Great!”  The doorknob hits the fridge, sending a shudder through the apartment walls.

It’s not that I object, Jerry clarifies.  You never told me, that’s all.

“How was the conference?”  Mark shouts through the bedroom door.

May recalls, and Jerry understands, that this was her alibi for the two-day absence.  “It was educational,” she says in a lacklustre voice as she re-enters the kitchen.

Mark has his feet on the counter.  “You mean boring.”

“That’s right.”  She smiles at him.

“You should say what you mean.”  He swigs the wine.  “I hate academic pretension.”

“So do I, Mark,” she breathes earnestly.

What’s this about academic pretension? Jerry jibes, picking up the background.  What’s more pretentious than a BA who works in the oil patch?

“Did you run into a lot of it there?” asks Mark.

May is distracted by Jerry’s running commentary.  “Where?”

“At the conference.”

“Oh.”  She wants to discard the fiction.  “It wasn’t exactly a conference.  I was with some people from the Department.”

Mark searches her face.  “A bummer?”

She nods.  “I’m sick, sick, sick of the Department.”

Mark offers his glass, from which she takes a grateful swallow.  “I thought it might come to that,” he says, swinging his feet down and facing her.  “So when are you going to quit and get an honest job?”

This guy’s a bad influence, Jerry warns.

May shakes her head.  “You know I won’t quit.  I can be finished in two years.”

Less with my help, Jerry encourages her.

“Things’ll be better once I’m on the tenure track.  I plan to stay completely out of departmental politics.”

Well… Jerry demurs, but is drowned out by Mark’s derisive laughter.

“Such idealism.  Someday you’ll learn.”

He was a mediocre B, B+ student, Jerry reminds her, rifling through her memories.  Not in your league.

“Can we go camping this weekend?” May suggests.  “I really need to get out of the city.”

“I’d like to.  But I’ve got a supervisor’s blowout prevention exam next week.”

Blowout prevention exam! Jerry echoes scornfully.

Shut up.  “How about next weekend?”

“Fine.”

She gives Mark her warmest smile, at which he leans over and kisses her.

Hey! Jerry protests.

“It’s good to see ya.”  Mark’s voice is heavy with recollection.

Jerry is growing upset.  Can’t you see what he’s after?  I wish you’d got properly dressed.  May, this is hard for me, extremely hard – make him leave you alone!

I’m a woman, she assures herself over and over.  It’s my body, and it’s a woman’s body, and I’m a woman.

I’ve always been a confirmed heterosexual…

What do you expect of me?  I haven’t got a penis.  You haven’t got one either.  You’re a woman now, Jerry, nothing more or less!

If you don’t make him take his hands off your breasts, I will.

“What’s wrong?” Mark asks.

“Everything.  No, nothing much.  I want a drink, that’s all.”

“Another one?  It’ll put you to sleep.”

“No it won’t.  You don’t know what I’ve been through.  I’ll tell you later.”  May stretches her mouth against Mark’s, feeling her nipples swell under his fingers, feeling flushed and melting, like a woman should.  Almost like a woman should.  A bit too tense, though.  Way too tense.  Visions of men in steam baths taint her thoughts.  She breaks the kiss, gasping, “I can’t stand it.”  Then she starts to cry.  “I want that wine.”

Mark leans away, confused.  “I dunno, May.  Maybe we should go out for coffee.”

Yes! Jerry interjects.  Only he goes, we stay.

“No,” she tells Mark.  “I need straightening out.  You can help.  Let’s go in the bedroom.”

Mark looks torn. “I don’t think things work that way, babe.”

“This time they do,” she insists.  “Okay, I’ll tell you what happened.  It was an encounter group – the smothering kind.  Some of the women were just too friendly.”

“You mean they were dykes?”

She laughs in embarrassment.  “Mark, that’s not what I said.  You are so incorrect!”

“I know.”

“It was the atmosphere,” she elaborates. “Clinging to me.  For two whole days.”

“O-oh.”  May winces with guilt, hearing him take the lie.  “Those university bastards!”

“Mark.”  She catches his eye.  “I may be knotted-up and difficult.  I may even seem to be fighting you.  Please be patient…and remember, I don’t want to fight you.  No matter what happens.”

He grabs her hand and leads her into the bedroom, storming.  “This really makes me mad.  How could they do that to your head – a woman like you – because May” – he pauses solemnly, one pant leg off – “you are one of the most beautiful, most feminine, sexiest women I ever…I mean, just look at you!”

“Thank you, Mark!”  She laughs and cries, hugging him.  “That’s exactly what I needed to hear.”

Deep within, Jerry huddles against the triumphantly mounting waves of female passion, waiting for the final humiliation, gloomily aware that he’ll have to learn to like it.

…continued in episode 3

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