As I wake up, my instincts tell me that everything has changed again, as I have learned to expect for the last two years. I inhabit a new body. It feels lighter, except for the excess pressure on my chest. As I sit up in a stranger’s bed, my long hair caresses my neck. It takes a glance down to realize that indeed I seem to be a woman today. A particularly gifted one. And my hands suggest that I’m maybe in my thirties.
I sigh, and get up from the bed. I’m alone in a master bedroom, but someone has slept beside this body. I may have a boyfriend, or be married. Another one of those days.
I open the bedroom door carefully and scout the surroundings. A hallway leads to five other rooms. A second floor. And I hear voices coming from downstairs, young ones. Shit, this woman may have kids.
I descend the stairs. The living room is connected to the kitchen, and two high school aged kids are seated on the kitchen table, eating breakfast. The boy shoots me a look between worry and confusion.
“Are you okay, mom?”
“I’m fine, honey,” I reply in a higher voice than would have come naturally from me. I should have gotten used to acting at this point.
“I can’t even remember the last time we came in when you were still asleep,” the girl says. She has long bangs and an evasive gaze.
“Are you sure you aren’t sick or anything?” insists the boy.
I contain a sigh. I grab the box of cereals from the counter, as well as the milk, and sit next to the girl.
“I’m the good old mom you used to know, I assure you.”
“You are still wearing your pyjamas, though.”
I eat a spoonful of crunchy cereals, which helps erase the stale taste of this strange mouth’s saliva.
“Do you have a problem with my pyjamas or something, kid?”
“No, it’s just that…”
“Enough with the questions already!” I say in an exasperated tone.
The boy shuts up and turns to his bowl of corn flakes. This body has a maternal mean streak, or maybe it’s just me being annoyed. These days only rarely I care to avoid wrecking the lives of these bodies I end up inhabiting without having any say in the matter. By the end of the day, or even earlier if I get too tired, I’ll be gone, and wake up in some other stranger’s life. Who cares about these two bozos. I’m sure they are as average as they look.
The girl’s gaze rests on my cheek, but when I turn my head towards her, she nervously pretends she wasn’t staring, and starts fidgeting with her long black hair.
“Hey, whatever your name is…” I start, but catch myself. “I mean, are you okay, honey? You seem troubled.”
She turns to me with a blank expression and nods slowly.
“Are you sure?” I prod at her. If she starts crying now, I’m not sure how to handle it.
She bites her lips and fiddles with the spoon, turning it around and around. Then, without looking at me, she mutters:
“But what are we going to do about dad…?”
“Something happened with dad? What’s that?”
She looks at me and opens her mouth to speak, but then she closes it. To my left, the boy lets out a noise of incredulity.
“I knew something was wrong with you, mom! You are in shock or something, right? Maybe you should go back to bed.”
“Hush, Kyle,” I say. “Your sister has something to say, and you are going to listen.”
“Kyle?” the boy asks confused, but the girl interrupts him with a teary voice.
“How long will it take for dad to find another job in this economy?”
The boy stares at his sister, then he sinks the spoon in his cereal as if to drown it. He looks up at me, defiance in his eyes.
“So what, will we stay with you now?” he asks.
“Don’t you live here already?” I ask, caring very little.
“Dad says he can’t find anything in this town!” the girl says. “So we would have to move! But I don’t want to move! I have my friends here! Glenn doesn’t want to move either, do you Glenn?”
“Shut up, Carla,” the boy mumbles, almost inaudible.
Carla starts crying, and the boy throws a hostile look at her.
You pour some more milk in your bowl. So this body is divorced or something. Maybe a break of some sort. In any case the kids seem to prefer to stay with their dad. Am I not good enough? The cheek to come crying to me about it. I’m sure I have an awesome, well-paying job myself.
“Why don’t you just live here with me then? I seem to have plenty of rooms.”
Both of them look at me in wonder, while Glenn studies my face.
“I can’t tell if that’s a joke, mom.”
“Why would it be a joke, honey? Is my house not good enough for you brats?”
“Doesn’t your boyfriend hate having other people’s childen in his place?” the boy asks bitterly.
“I see, I guess I can’t afford this place on my own. Is my boyfriend loaded or something? And where is he now, anyway…?”
The kids exchange meaningful glances, then the girl speaks.
“Mom, you know how you are sometimes… confused…”
“I am not confused, I’m in full possession of my senses,” I say indignantly.
“Mom, have you forgotten? The doctors said… that you’d have to take those pills…”
The atmosphere at the table grows tense.
“I’m somewhat crazy, then.” I shrug. “Well, whatever. I suppose this boyfriend of mine is at work, right? And I sneak my two brats in so I can feed them before they leave for school?”
“Uh… That’s one way of looking at it, I guess.”
“Wait a second, so I divorced this father of yours and came to live with a boyfriend, and because he wouldn’t accept my kids, I gave up on you two?”
“I wouldn’t say you gave up on us,” the boy says, “I know you love us. It’s just, you like your boyfriend better than us.”
“I sound like scum.”
The girl glares at her brother for a moment, before turning to me with kind eyes. “Glenn, dear, don’t say that. I’m sure that isn’t true.”
“Whatever, Carla,” he says as he stands up from the table.
I motion for him to sit down, and apparently I’ve done it more confidently than the owner of this body tends to, because the boy obeys.
“Listen to me, kids,” I say with a serious tone. “I’m sure I love you both quite a bit. You came out of me, tearing me apart in the process. I feel a significant wind coming out from down there. I better love you after such carnage, or else I will regret the consequences for the rest of my life. Glenn, you seem tough, and I like your name. Carla, you need to believe in yourself a bit more. You aren’t exactly pretty, more on the average to ugly side, but it’s all about faking confidence. If the world rejects you, you reject it back, then shit on everybody. You know what I mean, Carla? You can’t go through this horrible life apologizing for being alive.”
The kids are confused. Carla looks as if I’ve told her something she can use, but doesn’t know what to do with the information.
“I-It’s like I don’t know you at all, mom…” the girl says.
“Yeah, yeah. I know quite a bit about how messy this life can be. One day you are working freelance from home in your boxers and one leg on the table, and the next time you go to sleep your consciousness jumps into another body, one after the other, and rarely returns to your own. Two years of such garbage. It’s a metaphor, you see, but the point is that you need to learn how to adapt to the chaos of this life. You never know who you are going to meet, what burdens you are going to have to bear, or whether you are going to wake up as a girl next to some horny dude who won’t ask your permission to fuck you. And the worst is that you enjoy it quite a bit. But it’s because the body gets aroused by itself!” I pound on the table next to my bowl. It takes me a few seconds for my heart to calm down, then I sigh. “The point I’m trying to make is that I’m sure you look pretty good without your clothes on, Carla, and that way people can look down at your body instead of at your face.”
“Mom, you are talking to Carla as if she was a grown up,” the boy pleads with me. “Why do you have to be so mean? She doesn’t like being talked to that way.”
I squint my eyes at him and frown.
“You little shit. You dare to tell me how to speak with your sister? I’ll shove a cactus up your ass. The thorns will come out of your mouth.”
Not knowing how to react, Glenn retreats to the fridge and grabs a carton of orange juice.
“Don’t you dare pour that for your sister! I’ve told you that I don’t want her drinking sugary drinks. She becomes hyperactive as hell.” I stand up, grab the carton from his hands and put it back in the fridge. As soon as I look back at this Glenn’s face, I realize that I expected another kid’s face to stare back. What was that other kid’s name again…? “She’s already nervous about going to school today. You really need to help her out.”
Carla chuckles against her hand.
“You are really pretty when you are angry, mom.”
“I feel quite pretty alright, although I haven’t come across a mirror. And these look fantastic, don’t they? I have become quite knowledgeable about sizes. Can you believe that the both of you used to suckle on them? How can we even talk these days, look at one another in the eye, knowing that some time ago you were sucking milk from my breasts? It must be so embarrassing for you.”
“For you too,” Carla says. “We’ve never heard you speak that much before.”
I pick up the newspaper on the kitchen table, and start reading the front page.
“Is there any particular reason why you are reading the paper upside-down?” Carla asks.
I put the newspaper down. It was yesterday’s edition anyway.
“Everything is upside down in this world, honey. Haven’t you noticed? What sense does it make that someone forced another person to exist only for them to look average to ugly? Isn’t that a cruelty for which one should hold a permanent grudge?”
“You aren’t ugly,” Carla says with a kind expression, and puts her hand on my shoulder.
“I was talking about you, though. Carla, do you like your life?”
“Well, do ya, punk?”
“Yes. I do,” she says, with a firm nod.
“As you should,” I say, patting her head. “You don’t want to ruin that face of yours further, you know.”
I turn towards Glenn, whose expression suggests he’s having a Vietnam flashback.
“And you, Glenn, what’s going on in your life, huh?”
He turns redder than any of his shirts I have ever seen, but to be fair I have only seen one.
“Nothing,” he says, and lowers his head.
“That’s good to hear, buddy. Are you hitting anything yet?”
Glenn narrows his shoulders.
“What are you implying?”
“I’m implying you should hit something, like a baseball or a punching bag. It’s called exercise. It makes your body feel better, and there’s evidence to suggest it releases endorphins, thus making you happy. A lot happier than you seem to be, at least.”
“I do sports!”
“Yeah, I can tell. I have seen plenty of naked men in these last couple of years. Don’t ever have sex with anyone without permission, you hear?”
Carla laughs. Hey, I am serious! That’s a shitty thing to do to someone! But anyway…
“I digress,” I say, then hold Glenn’s gaze so intensely that he shivers. “You don’t want to grow up too fast. It’s not worth it. Trust me.”
Glenn averts his gaze down to the table.
“I still endure through nightmares what seems like every night,” I say, and although I try to control my voice, it trembles. “Sometimes someone holds me or wakes me up, and it’s always a stranger’s arms. You expect to wake up to security and comfort, but I open my eyes to a new nightmare. Do you understand what I mean?”
“I get it,” Carla says, then places her palm on my shoulder.
I smile, knowing she means well, and her words seem to flow directly into my ears and into my brain, causing tears to form in my eyes.
“I’m so sorry about your dad,” I say.
“Thanks,” she replies, her eyes shining.
“You can be so beautiful under the right light, Carla. Don’t you want to give your mommy a kiss?”
She opens her arms for a hug, and I embrace her tightly.
“Don’t worry, I won’t let anything happen to you,” I whisper in her ear. “I want you to do something for me. Take this as… maternal advice, if you will.”
“Sure,” she says.
“Don’t get angry at people. Not even the guy who is mistreating you. Be kind to everyone, and… you can change people that way.”
She pats my back. I release her from my grasp, and she nods.
“Yeah… but you know what?” Carla says, “Not everyone is worthy of trust.”
I stare at her, taken aback at her bluntness. My words have not changed her attitude at all. I sigh, but chuckle.
“That’s true,” I mutter. “And if you get them to think you are some meek creature, they won’t see it coming until you have already plunged a knife into their eye.”
She grins, and I smile. I really love this new girl.
“Mom, we have to go,” Carla says.
Glenn avoids looking at me as he retrieves his backpack, which he had rested against the back of a nearby sofa. He gives me a short wave and attempts to turn to leave, but I rush over to him, force the kid to turn around and I embrace him tightly.
“I’m sorry,” I say, “I’m so sorry. I love you.”
“I know, mom,” he mutters.
He stands stiffly in my embrace for a moment before he returns the hug a bit.
“You feel your mommy’s big, welcoming breasts pressing themselves against you?” I say softly in his ear. “Replicating that with a new girl who isn’t related to you is your sole goal in life, my dear boy. As soon as possible, too. You don’t want to go through the dreadful decades that await you regretting that you didn’t have sex with some big breasted high schooler.”
“Ew, mom!” he says, then attempts to free himself.
“We have to leave, mom,” Carla reminds me.
I refuse to let my new son go.
“Nothing of that fake disgust, boy. Something deep inside you yearns to return to those days in which I cradled you in my arms and you tightened your lips around my hardened nipples.”
“Also, you’re a teenage boy, and my body’s natural curves are really starting to bother you. You want me. I can see it. Don’t worry, I’ll be gentle. Bring this up again the next time we are alone.”
“Mom!” he exclaims, even more disgusted and angry.
He manages to escape from me, and Carla grabs him by the arm and drags him out of the house. I wave at them as they leave.
They have been gone for a few seconds when I finally lower my arm, and a wave of anguish washes over me. The tears burn. I will never gaze upon these two children of mine again. Isn’t that the height of cruelty?
As I walk up the stairs and return to the master bedroom to undress myself, I struggle to loosen my throat, to contain the sobbing. That ugly girl’s warm smile still brightens my heart, and the feeling of that boy’s strong arms still lingers around my borrowed, soft body. Indeed, this world is cruel, but it is also beautiful.
Nobody came home. By five in the afternoon I get so sleepy that I lie down on this stranger’s bed to take a nap. Shortly after, another jump separates me from her family.
I awake under the late afternoon light, which filters through my eyelids. My consciousness teeters in a body that is slowly regaining its senses. I hear the sound of waves slowly licking the coast, I feel cold sand under the bare skin of my torso and legs.
“I’m home,” I mutter.
There is no answer.