Νόστιμον Ήμαρ

Once upon the august moon, we lived

and loved Earth.


We’re lucky, you say, as you trace Cassiopeia for the last time

with a sigh curled around your lips. You already miss this.


We tasted her intestines and found them too bitter, overflowing

with loss. Leaving is the thing that makes sense when all you’re left

is fingers broken around empty spoons.


I hold your hand as we say goodbye to the only place

we called home.


We learn to cultivate crops in zero gravity and all we taste

is the Aegean salt and the absence of olive oil.


What is the taste of dreams when your future is beyond

your stars? you ask with your belly filled with sour cherries and a pearl

of nostalgia that digs in my thigh, where your shoulder rests on my lap.


This planet is tasteless, you say. The sun doesn’t bite and the air

doesn’t sky anymore.


Once you told me that the people important to you are your home but

I don’t know how to plant in your spine the view of the Milky Way

from our porch the first time we made love.


Tell me again, what is the taste of not going back?


We are alive because we left, but I know that we left

because we were alive and sometimes hope tastes

of our lips locked together.

Interview: Natalia Theodoridou

Natalia Theodoridou is a queer writer and editor, the winner of the 2018 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction, and a Clarion West graduate (class of 2018). Theodoridou’s stories have appeared in Strange HorizonsClarkesworldBeneath Ceaseless Skies, Nightmare, Fireside, and elsewhereRent-a-Vice, his first interactive novel, was a finalist for the inaugural Nebula Award for Game Writing. His latest gameAn Odyssey: Echoes of War, is out by Choice of Games. “Georgie in the Sun” is Theodoridou’s second appearance in Uncanny, an interesting twist on a classic vampire story, set to the sound of the Beatles, off in the depths of space.


Uncanny Magazine: What was the inspiration for this story?

Natalia Theodoridou: I had wanted to write a vampires-in-space story for years. Then, during the Clarion West workshop (2018), Yoon Ha Lee remarked that most of my stories were quiet and sad, and he encouraged me to try and write “comedy, action, or adventure.” So that’s what I did. I went through my ideas file, combined the premise with a title I had saved for the future, and here we are. (“Adventure” for my Clarion West class is defined as get-the-thing-to-the-place, so, technically, I did it! Still quiet and sad, though, I’m afraid.)

Uncanny Magazine: This story does a lovely job playing with some of the standard vampire tropes—mirrors, sunlight, bats, etc. Is the subversion of speculative tropes something that you do frequently in your fiction?

Natalia Theodoridou: Thank you! I don’t set out to specifically subvert things, but I suppose it is something that happens often in my stories, either because of ignorance (sometimes I have the audacity/imprudence of writing in a genre without exhaustive knowledge of its mainstream history and tropes), or because of the specific cultural and political lens through which I approach things that often positions me outside the canonical.

Uncanny Magazine: In addition to short stories, you also write interactive fiction games. “Georgie in the Sun” blends those two forms, featuring a game that is played within the story. What are some of the advantages to writing games? What are the strengths of short fiction as a format? Did you run across any challenges in combining the two?

Natalia Theodoridou: Writing interactive fiction taught me a lot about plot, character change, arcs, and story beats. Writing for Choice of Games was particularly educational, because I was forced to think about the entire spectrum of possible decisions a character could make at any given point, as well as the several ways in which different personality types could go about actualizing these decisions. And the fun part was that, unlike what happens when creating non-interactive fiction, I didn’t have to choose one of these variations. I could write all of them. This is a kind of freedom, despite the restrictions imposed by the mechanics and structure of the format.

Short fiction comes with a different set of restrictions—you have to chisel away until you get to the core of the story, and there is potential for a lot of regret; what if the characters made different decisions? Where could the story have led? What opportunities did we miss out on? These restrictions, paradoxically and precisely because of the shortness of the format, provide their own sort of freedom: you can bend every rule and try pretty much anything without having to go back 50,000 words to fix something you broke, which can definitely happen in an interactive novel (ask me how I know).

The difficulty with combining the two formats—and their restrictions—in this story I think manifests in the ending: could I really write multiple endings without privileging one of them as the “real” ending (i.e. the last one, because the story is not actually interactive and so is necessarily read linearly)? Part of the joy of writing “Georgie in the Sun,” though, was that I got to combine both kinds of freedom as well—my protagonist refused to make a decision and, by forcing the format of interactive fiction onto his short-form reality, broke the universe.

Uncanny Magazine: Are you a Beatles fan? If so, what is your favorite Beatles song?

Natalia Theodoridou: I actually came quite late to the Beatles, because they were way outside the cultural landscape in which I grew up. Georgie loves them, though.

Uncanny Magazine: At the start of the story, the Țepeș is near Alpha Pegasi, a star in the constellation Pegasus. The name of the ship is presumably a reference to Vlad the Impaler—is there any particular significance to the star Alpha Pegasi? Are there any other references hidden in the story you’d like to highlight for your readers?

Natalia Theodoridou: References are strange animals, in that they tend to wink in and out of focus, appear where you don’t expect them, and slip through your fingers when you try to grasp at them. Sometimes I do weave references through my fiction on purpose, but most of the time they are automatic, resistant even to myself, and hidden, like undercurrents. If you try hard enough, you’ll find hints and references everywhere—but were they there in the first place, or did you will them into existence by trying to find a connection? I couldn’t tell you, and I’m not entirely sure it matters.

I can say, though, that “Andreas,” the name Georgie settles on but ends up never using, is a nod to K.M. Szpara’s “Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time.” That story means a lot to me.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Natalia Theodoridou: I am in a transitional period that comes with the stunning and terrifying freedom of possibility (I won’t say endless, because nothing is). At the moment, I feel the need to revisit some of the worlds and characters of my short stories and continue exploring. In particular, I am mulling over a novel set in the world of “Poems Written While.” Spending more time with Daddy and his crew fills my heart with joy.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

behind the self-help section

behind the

false wall

lies all the

burned books—

banned and


they shimmer,

glittering in their


ghost words

that send shivers

down unknowing shoppers’


when these patrons

traverse too close

to the self-help


covered in goosebumps

hairs standing straight on their arms

these readers don’t realize that

they’ve brushed up

against the living dead

their souls still hung

shifting, uneasy

behind the false wall

where the phantom outlaws

condemned words

aching to have eyes pass over them



(Editors’ Note: “behind the self-help section” is read by Joy Piedmont on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 33B.)

Interview: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam’s fiction and poetry has appeared in over 50 publications such as Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror, Lightspeed, and LeVar Burton Reads, as well as in six languages. She has been a finalist for the Nebula Award and won the Grand Prize in the SyFy Channel’s Battle the Beast contest; SyFy made and released an animated short of her short story “Party Tricks,” set in the world of The Magicians. She lives in Texas with three cats: Gamora, Don Quixote, and Gimli.“Where You Linger” is Stufflebeam’s second appearance in Uncanny—a beautifully structured story that explores memory, relationships, and personal growth.


Uncanny Magazine: I loved the structure of this story, with a series of events described two different ways (first as notes, then as memories). How did you decide which details to put in the crumpled notes vs. the re-lived memories?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I wanted the details in the beginning to be short and sweet and tinged with the nostalgia of imperfect memories. I was inspired by Michelle Boisseau’s poem “Counting” which begins, “after a while, remembering the men you loved / is like counting stars. / from the arbitrary constellations / you pick out those the brightest. then the others, / dimmer and dimmer, till you can’t tell / if they’re real or only reflections / from your eyes watering with the strain.”

I wanted to write the fragments through watery-eyed memory, where each fragment is a miniature story that the mind writes after the fact, whereas the re-lived memories are less compact and complete.

Uncanny Magazine: What was your favorite part of writing this story?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I love stories where a younger self or a different self interacts with the present self; those mirror meetings are such a joy to play with. I also loved the pseudo-science of the memory visitations. I love writing ridiculous concepts but playing them straight. I laughed for a long time about the fact that penetration is what allows the memory to be re-visited.

Uncanny Magazine: This is a story with a large cast of characters—did you find it challenging to introduce so many characters in a relatively short space and make them distinct from one another? Do you have a favorite minor character from the story?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Not at all! I’ve met so many unique people, and as most writers do, I’ve collected quirks and habits and manners of speaking. It was important for the main character to have slept with a higher than average number of people. I’ve seen so many works of media where women fret over their sexual numbers, which when revealed are quite low.

I read a New Yorker article about Anna Ferris in 2011 when she was making the rom-com What’s Your Number? And studio executives were worried about having a protagonist who had slept with 20 people. There was a lot of hemming-and-hawing about trimming the number because they worried she wouldn’t appear like “a sweetheart.” It stuck with me. So that large cast of characters was essential.

Actually, several of these minor characters show up in other stories of mine. Anne, for example, is a common character who has her own rich history in my other stories. Cathryn makes a couple of appearances. Grayson meets a terrible end in “Where You Came From,” which came out in Three-Lobed Burning Eye. So those three are probably my favorites.

Uncanny Magazine: The story does a beautiful job showing how people change over time—the experience of Ms. Moore’s memories when she returns to them is shaded by all the things she’s lived through in the intervening years, and there is a nice contrast between the older and younger versions of Ms. Moore. Was personal growth or change over time something that you deliberately included from the start, or did it emerge organically as you were writing?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: It was absolutely deliberate. I wanted to explore someone who had matured emotionally going back to visit their more naïve self, and I also wanted to explore how that person might learn about their own shortcomings from revisiting a more idealistic younger version of themselves.

Uncanny Magazine: If this type of memory-immersion technology existed, would you want to use it? Why or why not?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: I might. It would be interesting to go back and see what parts of my memories were false and how my emotional response to situations would change with more worldly knowledge. I often think back on who I used to be and feel so lucky to have moved past that. If I used the technology, I imagine I would come away with an even greater idea of how far I’ve come over the years.

Uncanny Magazine: What are you working on next?

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: Several things! I have a story coming out in an anthology of future crime. I’m also writing two longer works right now, both about relationships in some way: one is horror, and the other is science fiction.

Uncanny Magazine: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

The Death of the Gods

It was only her eyes that changed; gently,

until one day she saw about her not grace

but men: fragile in their frailties, their palms’

spread wingspan just as wide as her own hands.

They were born together, youths together, fought

arms linked in the grass-shot fields of Troy,

grew tall together: wan shadows of the gods.


In their days of beating higher for rumoured

mountaintops, their every step was ghosted

by those uncertain years: the torn-up seedlings

on their boots; the night Aglaia leaned sword-point

against the earth and wept, palm wide, into her hand.

Fleet of foot they ran along the twisting alpine roads,

and always behind them those awful nights,

limned with mud, mortality. They dreamed their

weakness on the trail, each hand wide as each.


On a spring day, rain-touched, later, she brought

her children to the coast, and they ate ice cream

from the first stall open on the pier. The fields were

greened over; there was a monument, here lies, and

for a while she walked, pointing out young hazel trees

or Aglaia’s furrow in the earth, until she said: there once

were giants, and led them among the graves.


In the old times they heaped barrows. The gods had

barrows still, on the battlefield where some nights, she

looked up and saw them wheeling overhead. Her children,

born godless, scrambled joyfully uphill, shouting king

of the mountain; chased each other off the peaks.

The afternoon was mild. The wind wrapped their cheeks

like swaddling cloth, like first wool, and she lay down

next to the impossibly small mounds, measured the

barrows left of them: man-sized, each wide as each.


At twilight they came upon their mother: palm open,

spread wide, her fingers five wet feathers stained with

grief for all that none of them had ever truly been:

glorious and shining, immortal, sure of step—her

sky-giants, striding in a rare angle of light, one fleeting

and just right to cast a shadow.


For Gene Wolfe. For Ursula K. Le Guin. For Madeleine L’Engle.


(Editors’ Note: “The Death of the Gods” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 32B)


Speculative Fictions, Everywhere We Look

For me, fiction always starts with a what-if.

The work may start with an image or feeling, but at that point it could still be poetry. It doesn’t really become fiction until that what-if element leads me to a succession of events, a story. It’s a literal counter-factual: the what-if reality were different, if dragons existed or history had played out along other lines or technology allowed us to travel to the stars. What would that be like? How would it change everything else?

These what-if ideas are powerful, because they let us imagine a different future or present, and they are particularly powerful when we do the work of imagining those possibilities through coherent stories. By connecting our wildest imaginings to stories that make narrative sense, stories in which we can see ourselves participating, we expand our concept of the possible.

Although the examples I used above suggest speculative genres, all fiction is speculative. What if there was a family that had these problems, and one of them did this? What if there were people in these positions and they found a passion they could not resist? What if I had written down everything I have semi-forgotten from my childhood?

Still, with the more overtly speculative genres we can break some more rules. We can get further from reality, or closer to what we wish reality was. We can focus a little more on the changes in the world—magic systems, world peace, human cloning. We can imagine something more different.

Maybe that’s why there’s a tendency to think of speculative fiction as more distant from our world. All too often we classify speculative fiction as utopian or dystopian, or frame it as predictions of the future rather than analysis of the present, distancing ourselves from the ways in which speculative fiction intersects with our lives.

We’re a little more used to the role of historical fiction, which has a critical function in the building of identity. We tell ourselves stories about our lives, our childhoods, and our accomplishments, inventing biographies that, whether they inflate our own importance and virtues or not, make sense on some fundamental level where rigorous reality might leave us unsatisfied. The childhood story that has been told so many times by adults that we remember the story rather than the memory; the slightly exaggerated story told at a party; the CV that is not inaccurate but maybe a little tilted in our favor. We build and layer and contribute to stories about nation or organization, creating missions and meanings and collective identities that allow us to cohere as a group and take action together, even when there is little that objectively binds us together. We embellish or poeticize, invent a little, tweak a little, smooth out loose ends. We may miss this when we do it ourselves, but we’re used to the idea that it happens. We expect unreliable narrators, in real life almost as much as in fiction. We take people’s histories of themselves with salt shakers, imagine between the lines of their imaginative histories.

We use speculative fiction all the time too. We plan, projecting out futures with varying degrees of likelihood. Sometimes these futures are utterly impossible, but imagining them gives us some solace, or helps us ready ourselves for more plausible versions of the same story. Sometimes they are more realistic, and help us role-play upcoming situations.

And this is not just individuals. Countries or businesses develop five-year plans, ten-year plans, fifty-year plans, that imagine increasingly un-evidenced futures. Strategic documents, cost-benefit analysis, profit forecasts, all of these are forms of fiction. Political polls try to tell us what is going to happen, as do weather forecasts, and sports commentators. Our lives are increasingly entwined with a future built out of speculation and spit. Yes, they are based on something—on the past, on calculations, on ideas about what will happen when new products are unleashed on the market— but so is science fiction. Science fiction—if it’s any good—draws from observation of the past and present, the combining of new ideas with existing wisdom, and leaps of imagination based on what is known about current and day-after-tomorrow technology. Our societies draw a hard line between futuristic stories, in which we have fun or romantic or scary or exciting things happen to made-up people, and futurist projections, in which we pretend that we know what the future will be like and describe it without any made-up people at all.

There are public fantasies as well. Disaster researcher Lee Clarke has dubbed the disaster plans of many industrial actors “fantasy documents,” because they comfort the public while having no basis in reality. (As a mostly science-fiction writer I feel I should note here that I mean no slight on fantasy fiction through this comparison, any more than I meant to insult science fiction by comparing it to political polls or weather forecasts). The spin on new political initiatives often verges into the realm of fantasy, with claims not even the writers believe are realistic. Similarly, advertising often attempts to sell us portals into a brighter, shinier, much more annoying world.

We even create alternate universes, as in the form of shadow governments, which in many countries choose representatives for major government roles to talk about how policy would run under their leadership. These storied institutions exist to present alternatives, to act as either an inspiration or a warning, depending on your perspective, inviting their constituents to imagine a different world and they hope that by doing so they can convince them to make that world the next time they have a chance to vote.

It’s striking how much more willing we are to admit that our depictions of the past are partly fictional, than that our ideas about the future, so much more tenuous in their foundations, are based on similar impulses to self-aggrandizement and mythologizing rather than “hard science.” Maybe this is also why historical fiction has so much more literary cache relative to speculative fiction. Having accepted that a lot of our history is fiction already, we are less concerned about drawing a line between stories and reality. We don’t feel as compelled to mark off historical fiction as something that is apart, imaginary, and distant, something that is only of interest to a subset of the population. Science fiction and fantasy, on the other hand, are usually positioned in exactly that way, as something that is too made up to have a real impact on our world, while the speculative trappings of real life are claimed as objective and rational calculations.

Hopefully in the future that will change, because we need to do better at connecting our predictions to our sense of stories.


Street Harassment Is an Access Issue

It’s late at night on a deserted residential street in Brooklyn. My wife and I are walking to the subway station after a concert, having bid the friends who came with us goodbye at the corner. We’re not thinking much of it—not thinking about the fact that one of the people we left behind is a tall, non-disabled man, and that we’re now two women on our own. We walk all over the city, both as a pair and as individuals, at a variety of hours. We’re not thinking about it until a man starts walking toward us down the sidewalk, and we realize there’s no one else in sight. We’re not thinking about where and how to run until he passes us, turns around, and starts to scream.

“Walk straight, bitch! Are you limping, bitch? I will make you walk straight. Walk straight!”

I used to walk with a cane.

I’ve used one since I was at least twelve, on and off, and every day for three years before I got both of my hips replaced at age 30. When I brought my everyday pick—a metallic blue collapsible model—to an orthopedist’s appointment shortly before my surgery, my doctor lifted it in her hands, admiring the heft. “This is great for walking around the city,” she told me, with the sagacity of a seasoned New Yorker. “You could really give someone a good thwack with this thing.”

I laughed. I’ve been trained to laugh off threats to my life and my body. To laugh off the ways in which I am vulnerable. I’ve been socialized to defuse situations, to make everyone comfortable with my pain. It’s a thing society teaches women, and disabled women in particular. It’s a lesson we instill in marginalized people of all identities—laugh it off. It’s not serious. You know the way you’re in danger just for being who you are? The way leaving the house invites everything from unhelpful advice on quack cures to looks of pity to outright threats? It’s funny. Don’t you get the joke? It’s funny as hell.

My orthopedist looked up as I chuckled weakly, still wielding my cane between her fists. She held my gaze as the fluorescent lights glinted off the metal shaft. “I’m not kidding.”

The man who comes toward us is muttering as he approaches. This isn’t unusual in New York. Sometimes the muttering is aggressive: homophobic sneers; whispered come-ons; rape threats, though I’ve mostly experienced these as public broadcasts spoken full volume on the train.

When I had my cane, my fingers would tighten around the handle as incidents started to escalate. I’ve used it to protect myself when people are jostling me and shoving one another in crowds. The cane drew a boundary between my disabled body and the bodies of the enabled. A physical reminder that they should be careful even though they so rarely are.

I was reluctant to give up my cane after my surgery.  The way the device had come to symbolize my identity and the way it felt like protection was central to that hesitation. I only stopped using it when my physical therapist told me I had to, that it was locking my shoulder in place and causing further strain on the degenerating joint there.

I’ve noticed, since I’ve given it up, how much more anger and disbelief I encounter when I ask for accommodation, when I miss a step and trip, revealing myself as other than the able-bodied woman I’m sometimes taken to be by strangers  As though my devices are necessary to excuse and contextualize my body. As though the subtleties of a disabled existence, the complications of a disabled body in a world built for the enabled, are the key elements that provoke impatience and indignation. As if having to think about and respond to the nuances of my life at all is license for non-disabled people to turn their frustration, confusion, and distaste back onto me.

My hands are empty as the man draws near. They’re trembling. I have nothing to clutch except my wife’s arm, though I stop myself from reaching out, knowing that could cause more trouble.

My wife isn’t disabled but she’s only half-a-foot taller than me, far smaller than the six-foot-plus, heavily muscled man moving in our direction at a rapid pace. I feel her tense, and we both fall silent, halting whatever un-self-conscious conversation we’d been having as we walked. The man gets closer and I pick up more of what he’s saying. Something about walking. Something about bitches. Something about a limp.

I keep my eyes down and focus on getting one leg in front of the other: smooth, steady, like I’ve been doing it for years. I haven’t. I’ve in fact been in physical therapy for years, and I think about my movement all the time. Ever since my bilateral hip replacement I’ve been gait training, trying to correct the way I rock from side to side, the compensatory walk I developed to avoid putting pressure on my malformed hips and ankles and knees.

I focus on the push-off and the follow-through, on all the minuscule motions I’ve painstakingly improved that people without mobility disabilities seldom think about, the detailed instructions my physical therapist has given me countless times, watching me walk across the room. Swing through your hip. Don’t hitch. Let your midfoot release. Let your ankle release. Push off from your big toe. Keep your shoulders back, but not too far back. Keep your chest forward—no, not that far. Neck up, chin down. Swing your arms loosely, from the shoulder, and engage your core. All of these instructions are meant to minimize harm to my joints, to delay future surgeries, and prevent additional complication.

I’m shaking, trying not to come down in the wrong way on my tricky ankle and knee, knowing this will all be worse if I injure myself in my haste. I can never walk without thinking about it, never move without being aware of my body and its structural weaknesses. I’ve tried for three decades now to move with graceful ease, to make it look unrehearsed, but I can never get it right. I was taught as a child that my pain was something to hide, that passing as a non-disabled person was the key to something precious—to safety, to success—but my entire life I’ve never managed to perfect the act. There’s always a tell.

The man passes us. We miss our moment to sigh in relief. Because no sooner is he a few paces past, maybe three, maybe five steps away (I try to calculate the distance as I glance back) than he starts shouting. His words are directed at me, at my body, at the legs it took me months to walk on again after my surgery. He’s advancing, fists clenched, yelling at the top of his lungs.

I freeze. He doesn’t stop. He’s still coming toward us, and he’s still telling me to change something I can’t change, to be something I can’t be, and he’s raising his hands, and I have nothing in mine, no means to stop him, no way to block the blows.

When I was in eighth grade, I went out with a boy for a week after a school dance and then broke up with him. His friends held an emergency session in the computer lab to cheer him up that day. They were a funny group of kids, incisively smart boys with a penchant for the comic books I liked; I’d laughed along with them plenty. One of them said: “Doesn’t the limping bother you? Don’t you kinda want to cut her legs off and attach wheels to her instead?”

It was a joke. Get it? I wasn’t that much of a catch anyway, because I limped, so he shouldn’t feel bad I turned him down. I existed in a body that was imperfect, not made in the normative mold we require of women, so further damage to it was warranted. I’d invited it just by being. By stating preferences. By asserting autonomy.

Misogyny and ableism are a potent mix, just as ableism and other forms of hatred—racism, transphobia, homophobia, fatphobia—become even more explosive in combination. Casual depictions of violence against disabled people, in speech, in humor, in media, are everywhere. One of our most popular movie franchises features a running gag about Rocket Raccoon’s penchant for making disabled people vulnerable to harm and violence by stealing their prosthetic devices1. Many films continue to reinforce the idea that it’s better to be dead than disabled2, and to use the deaths of disabled characters to deepen enabled protagonists’ arcs. This devaluing of disabled lives and bodies mirrors what’s happening behind closed doors, in homes and institutions, and in public spaces like Brooklyn streets. We talk about the need to correct narratives that turn disabled people into ciphers of hollow inspiration, but we don’t talk as often about the flip side of that dehumanization. We don’t talk about the hate. We don’t talk about the efforts to erase us, which are omnipresent and ongoing, or the anger at our existence and insistence on access, or about how the kind of public and intimate harassment many of us face is a virulent symptom of that hatred.

The statistics on violence against disabled people are staggering. Disabled people are more than three times as likely to experience serious violent crimes3 than nondisabled people, and to experience them during daylight hours4. They are sexually assaulted at nearly three times the rate of nondisabled people; 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lives5. Disabled people face barriers in seeking help, like inaccessible hotlines for reporting abuse and respondents often lack disability-specific training. They constitute a third to half of the people killed by law enforcement officers6, including in cases where they have contacted the police for assistance. The annual Disability Day of Mourning7 recognizes the many disabled children killed by caregivers each year, an average of nearly one child every week.

All of these facts speak to the terrifying contemporary reality of disability, but any disabled person I know can tell you stories.

Stories of how our bodies were treated like clutter or trash or like they weren’t our own. Stories of how our minds were treated like they couldn’t be trusted, like we couldn’t possibly know what was best for us, like our requests for access and autonomy were unreasonable, frivolous demands. The disabled women I know, in particular, can tell you all the ways in which men used their disability as an opening for sexual harassment, a reason to follow them, to touch them without consent. “What’s wrong with you, sweetheart?” “Let me give you a massage, make you feel better.” “You shouldn’t be out walking all alone.”

I’ve had it happen to me and watched it happen to friends of mine, and know that even so I’m ensconced in a bubble, a cushion of privilege that has largely kept me from worse, since I’m a white cisgender woman with an ingrained awareness of how to talk to authority figures. But even that training came at a cost: it’s a deference that’s a response to trauma, an automatic response that comes from the fear that I must conceal my disability and my queerness to survive.

And the truth I know, as many others do, is that no amount of deference or reasonable appeal protects you. When the power dynamics aren’t in your favor, when the system has decided you aren’t compliant with its strictures, the tables can always turn. I’ve had it happen in airports, in public venues, in pharmacies and in doctor’s offices, where my polite façade cracks, where the pain and frustration get to be too much, and the eyes of whoever I’m speaking to begin to glaze over as I become shrill. Hysterical. I’m a problem to be dismissed. I’m a genetic glitch, a thing to be prayed away—as people so often told me during my childhood in the South—an offensive object, one that doesn’t fit in the world as they’ve built it, one they’d like to see removed from sight and mind as soon as possible.

If you want to stay safe and comfortable, the airline attendant, the dismissive doctor, the con organizer, the hotel clerk, all seem to say: stay home. Stay hidden. If you dare to live beyond the limits we’ve set for you, you do it at your own risk.

I open my mouth to tell my wife: run. No sound comes out.

I can’t make it to the gas station halfway down the block, on the other side of the street, but maybe she can. She’ll never go, never leave me, but I need her to. It’s our only chance. And it’s my body he hates, my legs that are the target. I can distract him. (Even this is internalized ableism, the way I’m prepared to offer myself up, though I don’t recognize that until later.)

I try to brace myself. I’m in pain all the time. I can live through this, too, I tell myself. I will live through this too.

“Bitch! Bitch!” The man takes another step, towering over me, and then whirls back, away from us. I look around, wildly; maybe he’s seen someone else. Maybe someone in an apartment nearby flipped on a light, opened a door. But the street is dark. Empty.

My wife and I start walking the opposite way, as fast as we can, and don’t stop until we find the shelter of a bus station, where a few other people are waiting. We don’t know why he paused in his attack, why he delayed long enough for us to get away. We just got lucky.

Lucky. Is this what we would call lucky? Lucky that a night out ended only with the terror of physical harm, not its actuality. Lucky to be able to walk home, to move through the world, to be outside and still come back intact.

A few weeks later, I’m walking down the stairs at a subway station when a man shoves past me. “Could you go any slower?” he gripes, knocking me against the wall with his shoulder.

“I’m disabled!” I shout after him, but he’s long gone. He doesn’t care. His contempt, though less overtly violent than that of the man who nearly beat me, is of the same strain. This contempt is the manifestation of a society that abhors the need to offer access to all. This contempt is learned. This contempt breeds hate, and that hate breeds harm.

I think a lot about that hate, in the weeks that follow, as I look over my shoulder walking down the street, as I try to measure a force that is impossible to quantify: who might hate me enough to strike me down, and why. Much of the hatred, mockery, and indifference to accessibility considerations I’ve encountered as a disabled person seems to come from a need for non-disabled people to see me as fundamentally different than themselves: to reassure themselves that the obstacles I face are not issues they ever need be concerned with, that something is inherently “wrong” with me and other disabled people that means we will never fit into this world and there’s nothing that can be done to change it.  It’s an especially absurd notion in a place like New York City, where all of our spaces are human-made, shaped by intention and ambition, and thus ableist by design.

Part of the reason my wife and I had such a long walk to that subway station was that we live in a part of Brooklyn where the subway stops are few and far between. We moved into our building in large part because it was the only place we could afford with an elevator, and even then, we couldn’t find a location anywhere near an accessible subway station. New York has a long history of neglecting accessibility needs. When the proposal for accessible buses was first put forward in the 1980s, then-mayor Ed Koch said it would be cheaper to pick up every wheelchair user and ferry them around the city in limousines. Current state Governor Andrew Cuomo would rather send cops into the subway to harass disabled people and people of color for the $2.75 fare than invest in the radically expanded access we need when the few stops with escalators and elevators often see them overcrowded and breaking down.

Every time a choice is made to frame accessibility as superfluous and unattainable, to disregard it entirely, it creates another barrier to the disabled community’s full participation in public life, another reinforcement of the idea that disabled bodies are an undesirable inconveniences. We must recognize that ableist infrastructure and thought is not benign, not a passive form of denying access, but an active form of harm that isolates and invites backlash against disabled bodies. That the desire to banish and “fix” is a form of violence. Telling me you want my body to be different is only a step away from telling me you’re going to make it that way.

What happened to me that night in Brooklyn is not so much about that particular man or his fixation on me. I have no way of knowing what his history was, or if he was disabled himself. I don’t know what triggered his response to my body, to the way I move. What I do know is that both of us exist in a system that condones violence against disabled people. Just as it condones violence against trans, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary people, women, and people of color. What I do know is that system fostered and let fester the desire to erase me and my limp from sight, from periphery, from existence itself. In a capitalist society that defines worth by productivity, that makes healthcare costs burdensome to the point of bankruptcy and death, he was only voicing with greater force the messaging I receive every day: Walk straight. Go faster. Get out of my way. Be different, be better, if you want to be at all.

The point of street harassment is to remind you that you do not have guaranteed access to your own block, your own trains, your own streets. Street harassment reinforces lines the system has already drawn. It can’t be solved with policing, which is a symptom of the system, and which often leads to further violence for disabled people who call for assistance. It wouldn’t have been solved with a big stick, as much as I might have wanted one to protect myself in that moment.

I don’t want that man removed from the street or from society. I want a street that is for both of us. I want a community that roots out violence and oppression, that does not answer harm with harm. That recognizes visibility is important, and also acknowledges what visibility costs. That it is on all of us to create that space, that safety, and above all that access. That to affirm each other’s worth, we must build that worth into our intimate and public spaces, into our language, our representation, and our vision of the future.

Lack of access is painful. In my experience, what compounds that pain is voicing its agony only to have its reality dismissed or disbelieved. Disabled activist Mia Mingus has described the phenomenon that is the antidote to this: access intimacy8, a term that extends beyond disability and relates to a certain recognition and comfort in relationships where access needs are seen, discussed, and otherwise acknowledged and affirmed. Among other aspects, it can involve advocating for someone’s need for access and also sitting with the isolation, trauma, fear, and anxiety access issues cause. It does not require instant solutions, but primarily consists of attention, understanding, and presence. As Mingus writes: “Sometimes [access intimacy] is someone just sitting and holding your hand while you both stare back at an inaccessible world.”

The work of access is work for us all, and it extends beyond disability. The work is to notice who is missing from certain streets, from certain spaces, and insist on their inclusion. To advocate and engage with logistics, so that the burden of pushing for access does not fall on those already barred from those spaces. To connect the forces of erasure and inaccessibility with those of violence and harm, and understand them as part of one continuum of enmity.

In our own community, disabled fans and creators continue to face access barriers at book events, conventions, and across publishing. The Disabled People Destroy issues of Uncanny have been incredibly powerful projects to participate in, but they’re only the beginning. Ableism is not confined to one sphere or one area of life, so the dismantling of its destructive mechanisms and underlying assumptions cannot be either.

Ableism can and does kill. There is no neutrality in this struggle. If you treat our bodies and our minds as if they are anathema to your blueprints for this world and the future one, you take the side of those who would erase us. You claim the side of those who would harass us, single us out, follow us home, and punish us for our gall in continuing to exist, let alone to thrive. You claim the side of those who would annihilate us.

If you want to stop the violence, recognize that for the disabled community it is everywhere. Recognize that it functions within and outside of our homes.  Identify and denounce and quash the hate that harms us, with every step forward you take, before it catches up with us on a lonely street at night.

[1] “The Expendable Disabled Heroes of Marvel’s Infinity War”. September 4, 2018.

[2] “Hollywood Promotes the Idea it is Better to be Dead than Disabled”. February 11, 2016.

[3] “Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2015 – Statistical Tables”. July 2017.

[4] “Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities, 2009-2015 – Statistical Tables”. July 2017.

[5] From September 4, 2018.

[6] “Media Coverage of Law Enforcement Use of Force and Disability.” March 7, 2016.

[7] Link to

[8] “Access Intimacy: The Missing Link”. May 5, 2011.


A tenjō kudari (“ceiling hanger” yōkai) defends her theft

at night I hover above the beams you’ve hammered

between heaven and your spread silk coverlet


the air, which is nothing to you, is everything to me

the wood, which is something hard to you, is nothing to me


I slip fingers beyond the pine knots and holding on to breezes

with my other hand see the dust dancing between the straw


reach down for your sleeping face


eager for your exhalations      those moist, warm castoffs

they are spirals of rips                     bits of soft driftwood


eddying out from your body           discarded as casually

as you threw down my bones wrapped in kimono-rags


cast away as you did your horse fleeing on the road

from my father’s huntsmen    its lungs bursting      beneath your body


nightly your dead horse and I call to each other      strung singing

as we are from bough and beam sometimes hanging       still as skulls


above your head   as you sleep, as you ride, as you love

others far better than you ever loved us


tonight is the farthest I have ever stretched from the rafters

listening from the hackberry tree the horse whinnies in the cold


your eyelids flicker open as my cold lips fall on yours

no she does not even roll over as I steal your last breath


Inspired by The Hour of Meeting Evil Spirits: an Encyclopedia of Mononoke and Magic by Matthew Meyer


Where You Linger

(Content note for sexual assault.)

We all make mistakes. As I sit on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded by the journals I kept in high school and in my twenties, and fill out the doctor’s form, I tally mistakes in the corner of the paper. Before marriage, before Dover’s and my quiet nights trading words and sharing thoughts between binged television episodes, relationships were tumultuous. My tallies reflect this. Particularly the final tally, the one that got me into this mess to begin with. The doctor didn’t ask me for a tally, just brief descriptions of all sexual encounters, mistakes or not, to jog my memory along with the age in which I experienced them. But I need to prove to myself that the dissolution of my marriage wasn’t unique, that it hadn’t been a surprise. I should have seen it coming.



#1 (Age 16)

Anne, the first woman I made love to, tasted like sunlight and sweat. We kissed behind a half-open door at the house where she lived with her father and stepmother. Afterward we went for Chinese food. We were together, off-and-on, for two years. We lied and cheated and searched through one another’s texts. We cooked each other Foreman grill chicken and pasta with four types of cheese. We raised one another in homes where we otherwise went unnoticed.


#2 (Age 18)

I lost my virginity twice. First, with the woman of sunlight and a Superman tattoo across her back. Second, with Mario, a Czech cigarette smoker, a college boy, a smooth talker who asked me to be his girlfriend after knowing me for one day.

We fucked in hotel rooms. We ate Whataburger after. We smoked weed from a pipe that looked like a metal cigarette and performed rainy picnics in the park. The sex was a beautiful pain. He told me I would leave him for a woman. I left him for Anne; she no longer tasted like sunlight when she begged me to come back.

“I slept with my ex too,” he said when I told him. “I don’t even care.”


#3 (Age 18)

I wasn’t done with men’s beautiful pain. The third person I slept with, Daniel, was a latent schizophrenic with hippie hair and a wallet stuffed with acid hits. Lucifer in the sky with diamonds, dancing half-naked in the front yard of a friend’s house while his parents were on vacation.

He said he wanted to take it slow. I waited a week to ask for what I wanted; for me a week was slow. Not for him. After we broke up, we argued about timing during his late-night surprise appearances at my door. He told me I’d get pregnant before the year was out. He called for five years after I stopped answering. On my 23rd birthday, I changed my number.


#4 (Age 18)

It wasn’t good. I squeezed my eyes shut. It wasn’t good.


#5 (Age 18)

We both had boyfriends when we first met in that final raging year of high school. Natalie gave me a massage on a crowded downtown street. Once we were both in college, she called again. I went to her without a thought. We sat in her apartment, as far across the couch from one another as possible, but when I got up to leave, she shoved me against the door and kissed me harder than I’d ever been kissed.

I kneaded her soft thighs in her cozy bed. She rescued me from a bad drunk in the company of my Dungeons & Dragons friends. I puked in her stripper shoes. We drank mimosas in my dorm. She only called me when she got lonely.


#6 (Age 18)

I remember Christopher crisp as a Facebook photo: red curls, a single mole on his neck, an affinity for exclamation. I met him at a National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws meeting, which I attended in the hopes of finding a new dealer. The redhead didn’t deal but kept a six-foot bong on his mantle.

He quoted scenes from Catch-22, pillow talk with a prostitute. I watched him play football games on his Wii. We played beer pong with his friends. Once I puked in his sink: spaghetti with mushrooms and peppermint ice cream. Every time he asked me over, I went. Then he stopped asking.


#7 (Age 19)

So I fucked his friend Simon over a game of strip poker. “Pretty good for a dude, huh?” he said. It wasn’t.


#8 (Age 19)

Simon’s friend Oliver was better, a sweet blond who wrote bad poetry and lived in a private dorm next to Anne’s college apartment. I visited him after Anne. I visited Anne after him, soaking wet from rain. The cookie taste of him still lingered on my lips when I slipped my tongue between her legs.

“What do you want?” the blond asked.

I didn’t lie. “I want Anne to leave her girlfriend and come back to me.”

“Then we have no business being together.”


#9 (Age 19)

But Anne didn’t love me anymore. I sweated out her sunlight in the dark of my room in the house I shared with two roommates, a dozen fevers moving through me with no further explanations. When I was well again, I befriended Anne and her girlfriend, Cathryn, and Anne’s roommate, Dana, who was fucking Cathryn too.

I didn’t tell Anne that I drove each weekend to swallow bitter pills and fuck a blue-haired candy kid, Xander, king of the club. His last name remains unknown. We had nightly phone sex. I drove an hour to be in his bed every now and again and stayed as long as it took to finish. He knew nothing about me. It was easier to delete his number when Anne came calling, came crying. She had found out about Cathryn and Dana.

We moved Anne out of her apartment and into the home I shared. She wrote “I love you” in paint on my desk. We didn’t make it official.


#10 (Age 19)

At least that was my excuse when I met the most beautiful woman I’ve ever loved, cherry cheeks and gruff throat and the cutest drunk smile I’ve ever seen. Meredith and I kissed for the first time in a dance club against the red brick of a pillar.

It was time to leave the sunshine behind, but we always hold on to first love longer than we should.

Too drunk, we wound up on a bare mattress in an empty room in the house I now shared with Anne. We woke to Anne screaming in the door. I didn’t remember a thing.

After a long night of fighting, I pledged myself to Anne. I tried to be friends with those cherry cheeks, tried to keep her around, but Meredith left my house one night and said she wouldn’t come back.

I cut ties with Anne the next day in a brief tearless goodbye. I loved Meredith even when she told me she was moving up north. We didn’t last that long. Even before she moved, her clothes smelled like Anne’s ex-girlfriend Cathryn, my first enemy, my only enemy. When Meredith begged me back, I stood my ground.


#11 (Age 19)

Nothing counts on Halloween. Especially not a woman you forget before you even know her.


#12 (Age 19) & #13 (Age 19)

Once upon a time I loved a woman who smelled like sunshine. Later she loved a woman with long hair and a dark past who would become an enemy and a friend; isn’t there a word for that? They lived with Dana, the daughter of a pastor. Dana and Cathryn, they were made for each other, or at least for that part of their lives.

I had taken a lover when I had a lover, first with Daniel, then with Meredith. Did I deserve full-circle? Cathryn was so full of mystery no one could resist her, Meredith least of all. I didn’t want Cathryn. I was the only one. But Dana was a beauty in her dark apartment where I rode my bike as soon as she heard about our girlfriends’ liaisons in party bathrooms.

“It’s okay,” I said to Dana.

“Fucking bitch,” she said.

We ate burgers and went our separate ways. One night later Dana and Cathryn were back together. Meredith and I stayed apart. I fucked Dana and Cathryn both instead, in a room with no curtains on the windows. Pushed and pulled between the woman I wanted and the woman I hated, I didn’t belong.


#14 (Age 19)

Jeremiah was covered in tattoos. When he asked me to dinner, I never went, but I showed up at his apartment late at night to smoke weed and get naked. He left the TV on all the time and I heard Charlie Sheen’s crazy laugh as I fucked him. Too much noise is still too much noise and when I left, I never came back.

Meredith moved to Colorado and I cried a lot.


#15 (Age 20)

Here is where I tried again. Here is where I walked with a man eight years my senior who didn’t know what he wanted and wanted what he didn’t know. Michael and I played board games on his carpet. I wanted him all the time and he couldn’t give that much of himself. I was in a hurry, wanted to move too fast, wanted to get the hard parts out of the way, wanted to experience it all then and there and he drank too much anyway.


#16 (Age 20)

It was Grayson I wanted, a boy who left hickeys all over my neck. A friend of a best friend. A bowl cut, like the Beatles.

When I got too drunk, I asked Grayson to walk me back. I stumbled under a tree and he caught me, kissed me. We snuck into my house.

“Your bed’s full of books,” he said. I pushed them off. I’d been sleeping alone for weeks.

“You and your girls,” he said.

“Boys too,” I said. I kissed him again.

I don’t remember the rest. I blacked out. He left before sunrise. The next day I heard nothing from him. At a friend’s place a week later, he called his new girlfriend by my name.

His friend Eliot looked nothing like him. He kissed me on the couch in the room where Grayson sat with his new girlfriend. He drove me to his place without asking if that was where I wanted to go.

When we finished he jumped on his computer and played video games as though I wasn’t there.


#17 (Age 20)

I waited because they told me I should wait. The violinist was hard to get. Her name was Dover.

“Like the cliffs?” I said when she introduced herself in the middle of my roommate’s party.

“Got any weed?” she said.

She was sitting in my house like she belonged there, cross-legged in my dining table chair with her ponytail and her bright red leather pants.

“No,” I said. “What kind of guest doesn’t bring their own weed?”

But when she asked my roommate for my number, I relented.

The first time we made love we were in a lake at a state park, past the time we were supposed to be in the water. She commented each night on the moon and its changes. She offered up everything I never wanted to lose.

I loved her with everything I had to lose.

When I lost her, ten years after we took our vows, I lost everything I loved.


#18 (Age 35)

There are a million excuses I could give. Fifteen years of monogamy pass, and you start to itch for the excitement of a stranger’s hands, for the unraveling of a mystery, peeling back their words to reveal what’s really underneath. You feel unwanted, after years of being looked at with the gentler gaze of long-term lust. You feel the need to return to that younger self.

You’re a worthless piece of shit. You’re everything you never wanted to be.


“That’s everyone?” the doctor asks.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s a lot, isn’t it?”

“Do you feel like it’s a lot?”

“Oh, come on. It’s a lot.”

“Huh.” The doctor taps her pen against her clipboard. “Then it must be a lot.”

“Honestly? You think so?”

“Honestly, Ms. Moore?”

I nod.

“I’ve seen more.”

I shift in my seat, cross and uncross my legs, wipe my palms on my thighs.

“That’s everyone, you said? Are you very sure?”

“Yes. I kept good records.”

“That’s everyone you experienced penetration with in any of its forms? That’s a finger in the vagina, the anus. A finger in the mouth. A penis in the mouth. A tongue in the vagina. You want as many as possible.”

Fuck. Blowjobs. Blowjobs probably counted. I hadn’t recorded all of those encounters in my journals, not as meticulously.

“That’s all of them,” I say.

She studies my notes. “The good news is you didn’t leave a lot of time between them. That’s good. Fewer gaps means smaller steps.” She scribbles something on her form. “You remember how this works?”


“Tell me. Say it back to me. I want to be sure.”

“The memories are a map, right? I follow memory to memory. Each one is like a stepping stone.”

“Yes, that’s fairly accurate. Are you certain you got everyone? As I said, you want as many stones as possible so that you do not fall through.”

“What happens if I fail?”

“You must start again.”

“That’s all? I won’t die or get lost or go into a coma or something?”

“You start over. This means we start from the beginning. Your fee covers one attempt. If you can pay again, we can go again. But I suspect you cannot pay again.”

I think of my bank account, that red number. I pulled it all to come here. I sold off Dover’s violin.

“You assume correctly,” I say.

She hands me the clipboard. “Is there anyone you want to add?”

I add three oral-only encounters. She takes the clipboard back. It’s not everyone, but it’s as close as I can get.

“Much better,” she says.

The machine looks like an MRI, but it closes over my head like a coffin. It whirs around me, strange lights flashing in my eyes until I squeeze them shut.

“Don’t,” the doctor says over the speaker. “You need to follow the light with your eyes.”

I follow it back-and-forth, back-and-forth.

“It’s not working,” I say.

“Wait for it.”

I wait. “I don’t feel anything,” I say.


And then, yes, there it is: that smell of sunlight in my nostrils. The graze of my nose on skin so pale it’s as though it’s never seen the sun. We’re in Anne’s sloppy bed at her parents’ house, behind a closed door that her stepmother will later scold us for closing.

She is thrashing underneath me, but I know from the future that she’s faking it.

I faked it too, sometimes. I grip her skin and remember why I loved her. But also why I stopped. Even this first time, there is a lie beneath the surface. So many lies. So much work to pry them apart. An onion that’s rotting underneath.

Afterward we lay in one another’s arms and giggle and kiss all the empty spaces.

“It won’t always be like this,” I say.

We fall asleep, young and exhausted and covered in a smell I’m smelling for the first time. I think, this is enough. And it is, enough. No more, no less. Nice to be loved again. But not the reason I’m here.

The doctor told me how to jump. I could stay for the whole of a relationship, reliving each and every memory, until my time with that person was finished, until our body-to-body contact had been extinguished. Until the day and hour and minute of our last time. Then, I would no longer have a choice. I would be moved to the next whether I wanted it or not. It is possible, she said, to get lost somewhere you did not intend to stay. Be wary where you linger. The memory is a clever trap.

I jump from Anne to #2, that sharp pain between my legs. I lean my head back against my pillow, arch my back, do everything I’m supposed to do. I don’t feel the explosive tremor through my body. I don’t fake it, not yet jaded enough to pretend at satisfaction.

“Look, we’re fucking,” Mario says, enamored and amazed.

“No shit,” I say.

Then I’m onto #3 with his clumsy drunk fingers. It’s nice to see Daniel half-sane again. It’s also painful, to see a ghost I finished mourning over two decades ago.

It’s disorienting, jumping from place to place like this.

I land at #4. But this time it’s different. I’m in a dark room in a foreign house, a place I long ago blocked out of my memory. I’m standing at the foot of a bed while another version of me pushes at the body in bed with her.

“I’m so tired,” she says to the half-stranger, the man I have tried to forget.

I intended to jump immediately on from this one, to leave this room so quickly my eyes wouldn’t even have time to adjust. But this isn’t what the others have been like. I’m frozen by the sight of this other me.

I don’t think about the fact that these are just memories, that the me in the bed is in no danger because it isn’t real. I scramble up onto the bed and push the guy out of the way, pull my own body out of the blankets and then out of the room, down the hallway, onto his freshly manicured lawn.

He doesn’t follow us. He’s too drunk, almost as bad off as we are. It’s no excuse, but it’s the truth.

“Who are you?” the other me slurs.

“I’m here to help you. You have to get the fuck away from that guy.”

“He wouldn’t listen to me,” she says.

“You should leave,” I say.

“I’m too drunk to drive. My keys are in the house still.” The other me rummages through her pockets and comes up empty-handed. I look for my car until I find it in the driveway, my old black sports car, beautiful and sleek and a piece of shit even then.

“Wait here,” I say.

I sneak inside, back into his room. The asshole’s passed out, mouth open, splayed across the bed. I grab my keys off the floor. I grab my favorite necklace from where it was slung across the room. I draw a cock on the back of his neck where he might not notice it for a good long while. It’s the best quick revenge I can think of.

“I’ll drive you,” I say to myself. Already I feel myself slipping, feel the ground falling out from underneath me. When we get to the car, the ground is translucent underneath me. “Fuck,” I say. I reach out and grab hold of myself. “Don’t let go,” I say.

And as fast as a sunrise when you’re not expecting it, we’re at #5, both versions of me, entwined with Natalie in a mess of limbs and tongues.

“You’re so hot,” Natalie moans. “You’re both so fucking hot.”

I untangle myself and struggle from the bed. The other me moves to-and-fro, too drunk to realize her deer-in-headlights expression is still pasted over her face. Natalie kisses her across her shoulders, across her neck, across the bridge of her nose and cheeks.

Natalie laughs, then falls away. “I needed that,” she says. “I really did. You Pisces sure know how to make a girl come.” She closes her eyes. “I’m glad you came over,” she whispers as she drifts off to sleep.

I remember: we could never stay awake when we were together. Even the other me is falling into her own sleep, as unworried about her new location as I ever was in that time. I pull her from the bed and shake her awake.

“You have to stick with it,” I say, leading her through the bedroom door into Natalie’s living room, the floor strewn with astrology books and tarot cards. She had read my cards before we went to the bed; they were full of swords and cups, difficulties and loves.

“Where are we?” the other me says.

“We’re safe here. She’s wild but kind.” I eye my camera sitting on her coffee table. I think about picking it up but I’m already fucking with the memory enough so I leave it be, knowing I’ll never see it again. “Just maybe don’t leave your stuff here.”

“I’m so tired.” The other me clings to my shirt. “I can barely stand up. Can we go to sleep, please?”

I’m tired, too, so tired I can’t make sense of the situation. I know I need to figure out what to do with the other me: what happens if I leave her in this memory? What happens if I keep taking her with me? Already, like faded scars, what remains of that night with #4 is falling away. The doctor did warn me, though I was too desperate to listen, that moving through memories might change them irrevocably. But what really occurred, in your past, she said, that stays the same.

This place is safer than most. Natalie won’t mind if we sleep over. She won’t wake in the night and demand anything of us. In the morning we’ll go out for crepes.

“You can sleep in there if you like,” I say. “The bed is nice and comfortable. I’ll take the couch.”

“Thank you,” she says. “Thank you.”

She shuts the door behind her. I make sure the front is locked. I pick up some of Natalie’s things and stretch across the couch as best as I’m able. She has no extra blankets, so I pull a discarded coat over my body. So I don’t forget, I repeat the violinist’s name again and again: Dover, Dover, Dover, until the lullaby of it pulls me under.

I returned to my memories because I cannot live in my realities. People give many different reasons for going through with the procedure—to cure PTSD, to see a dead loved one a final time, because they think they can change things even though the doctors tell them they cannot—but they all boil down the same, don’t they? They cannot live in their reality.

I at least was honest about this. The doctor appreciated my honesty, I think. She didn’t ask for much more than I put down on her paper. She didn’t try to talk me out of it, which I’d heard of some doctors doing for patients without referrals.

I’m going to ride this all the way to the end. I am going to be in Dover’s arms again. Because there was something in me then that she loved more than anything in the world. I need that back if I’m ever going to get her to talk to me again.

It’s been three months since she last answered my calls. Three months is a long time to be without someone. Three months is too long to cling to old love.

Logically, I know this. But I dreamt about her every night. I remembered her every day.

To be bound to nostalgia, that’s an illness deserving of a name, in need of a cure.

In the morning, my other self shakes me awake. I stare into her face, at her smooth skin free from sun spots, her unstained teeth. She doesn’t look like she had a rough night. Sure, I had saved her from the worst of it, but shouldn’t the very closeness to tragedy induce a fear of the world? Like the times I nearly but didn’t wreck my car?

But yes, the time I did wreck it proved more difficult to forget.

“Morning, chip off the chipper block,” I say. My back screams as I sit up. “Where’s our lady friend?”

“She went to get pancakes,” she says. “I like her a lot.”

“Yeah,” I say. “We did think we might be able to love her for a time, didn’t we?”

“Can I ask you something?” she says, sitting at the foot of the couch only inches from my feet. “What are we doing here? What is this?” She runs her hands up and down her bare legs. “I don’t feel right here. But also I love it here.”

I fold myself into the couch. “I do, too,” I say. “Which means I should go. I need to go.”

“So soon?” she says. “We just got here.”

“We have somewhere else to be.”

“Can we eat first?” She clutches her stomach. “I’m starving.”

“You’re not coming with me.” I untuck myself and slip on my shoes.

“Of course I am! Where else would I go?”

“Stay here.” My leather jacket, the one the memory me left on Natalie’s floor, makes my skin itch beneath it. “You’ll be happy here, for a while. Then you’ll move along. And along again. And again and again.” I grab up my old phone and check through the contacts, looking for the next in line. He isn’t there yet. No matter. I don’t need to call before moving to the first time we fucked; I’ll already be there. I grin. He was good in bed, the redhead.

“I don’t want that,” she says. “I’m too tired for that. Can I come with you instead?”

Well, fuck. I can’t leave myself where she doesn’t want to be. She’ll like the redhead. I’m sure she’ll want to stay with him the way I always wanted to stay with him. After he stopped talking to me, I was sure my heart was broken, sure I’d had my first brush with near-loving a man.

“Come on then,” I say. “Grab a snack bar from the kitchen.” I watch the door. “If she comes back, we’re never getting out of here alive.”

Natalie was always aggressive with her goodbyes: those hard, knee-numbing kisses against the cold wall a memory I used to call up when fucking long-term partners, remembering the excitement of being wanted with such authority.

We disappear as the door’s handle rattles. The noise becomes the knock of my head against the wood of a dresser, Christopher pushing into me from above. I grip his pink skin and moan. He doesn’t notice that my head’s hitting his dresser, softly but audibly, and this, too, is a turn-on: sex so rough it hurts. I’ll walk the next morning on throbbing legs.

The other me, this time, is sitting at Christopher’s computer desk. She’s clicking through his music. My timelines, somehow, are crossing; this is what I would do after sex sometimes. The redhead introduced me to Bob Dylan, to the Band, to a hundred other all-male bands. He was never concerned with feminism; his house was woman-free except for me. I got a pass because I talked about women with the worst of them. Because I won games of beer pong too. Because I didn’t ask to change the channel from football. (Though I should have; I hated football even then.)

“I’ve never heard of any of this music,” she says. I think she’s talking to me, but I can’t be bothered about music right now.

“Hush,” I say from beneath him. “You have no idea how much I missed this.”

After he’s come, he holds me and tickles me and kisses my neck until my skin is so sensitive I beg him to stop.

“You’ve never heard of Bob Dylan?” he says to the me at the computer. “What have you been doing with your life?”

He puts on an album: The Freewheelin’.

“Play ‘Don’t Think Twice,’” I say with a hint of malice, though in all seriousness it’s the only one of Dylan’s songs that ever meant something deeper to me. I remember the redhead burning the CD for me, putting it on as I drove away from his house one morning. How beautiful was Dylan’s pain! Then, later, it became the album I put on to commune with the ghost of Christopher’s lost affection. I took a Bob Dylan class my second semester at college. Turns out he was a terrible sexist.

“This is beautiful,” she says to Christopher. He beams and kisses the top of her head, like she’s his fucking sister.

“This is Dylan!” Such excitement. I forgot how much of a fan he was, how much he loved the things he loved, how far I always was from being one of those things.

But when he crawls back in bed with me, I stick my hand in his red curls and smell the sweet toxic weed smell of his oversized sweater.

“He’s cute,” she says. “What happens with him?”

“We both want the same thing,” I say, “But he talks me into wanting something more. And then decides against it.”

He nuzzles his head in my lap. “Who are you talking to?” he says. “You’re missing the best parts of the album.”

“I’m talking to myself,” I say, and both versions of myself laugh at the terrible joke.

We stick around with the redhead for another fuck. After that we drive back to my dorm room. When I pulled her out of her timeline, she had just moved in, and I wanted her to see the mess living alone became in a brief time. I’d written the address to a party on the wall in red paint. I’d been painting cartoons on canvas, love stories I was trying to make sense of: me as a mermaid, Pisces in literalization, with the Virgo sunlight-first-love pulling me from the water, saving me from drowning. A giant Alice holding on to the stem of a mushroom with a candy cane.

“Drugs?” she says. “We promised we would never do drugs.”

“Weed is a drug, believe it or not,” I say. “If you remember correctly, we also said we would never do dudes.”

“That’s fair.” She picks up my copy of Moby Dick. “You’re still not done with this?”

“I’m done,” I say. “I’m twenty years older than you. If I can say I accomplished anything in life, it’s that I read Moby Dick.”

The other me slides into my desk chair. “Twenty years?”

“Resist the temptation to ask me questions,” I say.

“Why are you doing this?” she asks. “Are you going to leave me behind eventually?”

I kneel at her feet. “I’ll pick a good one for you,” I say. “But Dover is mine. I want her to myself. You’ll understand once you get to her. It’s better than first love. Better than flimsy fucks. Better than the guy in the fancy ass private dorm.”

“Private dorm?” She wrinkles her nose.

“Remember that. Treasure him. Oh, and Meredith. Treasure both of them. You’ll remember them vividly for the rest of your life.”

She plugs her ears with her fingers. “No more,” she says. “I trust you. If you have to leave me, leave me with private dorm dude or Meredith. But no spoilers!”

“No spoilers, no questions,” I say. We shake on it.

When we arrive at #7, the other me bursts out laughing.

“What is this room?” she says. On one wall he’s hung a giant poster of a woman straddling a massive nugget of weed. “Fucking stoner dudes.”

“It’s good for a guy, isn’t it?” Simon says, that infamous line.

The other me rolls her eyes and crosses her arms. “Now this is a poor decision. That other stuff? Small potatoes.”

“Shut up,” I say, pushing him away and moving from bed.

“You made fun of me,” she says. “It’s only fair.”

“I made fun of both of us. This is every bit your decision as it is mine.”

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so. The others I got. This one? We’re not even attracted to him. This one is a sad fuck plain and simple. I don’t like sad fucks.”

“You think I do?”

“I think you can’t help it. It’s not always about joy for you.”

“Jesus,” I say. “When did you become so insightful?”

“I have the added advantage,” she says, “of meeting the me I don’t want to be.”

Simon massages my shoulders with clammy hands. “I can’t believe I fucked a gay chick,” he said.

“An entry for your journal,” I say.

“Don’t talk like that to him,” she says, sliding down beside him. “He likes you, and that’s the only thing he’s guilty of.”

I turn and kiss him, to be nice. “You were good,” I say, “for a guy.”

“At least you were truthful with him,” she says of #8, Oliver the poet. “That’s the best I can say about that shit show. I’ve never met a needier guy.”

“They’re needier than we thought they’d be, men,” I say. “It takes some getting used to.”

At #9, Xander, myself and I forget him and dance until we’re so sweaty we look like sea monsters freshly risen from the ocean. We stand in the bathroom mirror and watch the sweat drip to the floor.

Though I let her have Xander when the night is through.

“This one is fun,” I said. “No muss, no fuss.”

She spots his blue hair in the crowd. “That’s him?” She laughs. “Is he wearing makeup?”

“He always saves the last dance for you. Every club night. Go get it.”

I wait in his living room with the rolling kids, their pupils black saucers swallowing the skies of their eyes. They pass me a tab. I pop it and lean back into the couch. Might as well go with the times. We pass a joint as the lights go blurry, and they talk about the blue-haired boy.

“He saved my life,” says a teenage girl. I remember this happening; I was there, with her in the kitchen. She thought she’d had too many pills. He gave her water and food and calmed her down. I like helping people, he said when she was better again, the revelation lighting him up like a fucking Christmas tree of cliché.

But damn was he hot with his plastic bracelets up and down his arms. I liked to imagine him in class, raising his hand, the bracelets falling together down his arm.

When she comes out of the room, she’s white as a Mud Flap. And I remember.

“Oh, shit,” I say.

She goes red in the face. “That’s the worst possible thing you could have said right now.”

I laugh, because I can’t help it. Other me isn’t me, exactly; somehow, pulling her away from #2 in his seedy bedroom with his seedy insistent hands changed her. I don’t know if I like her more or less than me; she’s not as bold but she laughs easier, as though she’s merely revealing what was always there. When I laughed, at this point in my life—which I did so often I was known for it in my circle of friends—it was to let the mania hide the depression.

“Admit it,” I say. “You kind of liked it.”

“Well I agreed to it, didn’t I?” She pulls at my arm, and her touch sends shivers, that old familiar drug jolt. “Let’s go, please. Xander’s sweet, but I don’t think I can bear to see him again after that.”

“Wise girl,” I say, ruffling her hair.

She shrinks away. “I am so not your child,” she says, then stops in her tracks. “Wait, do we have—”

“That’s for me to know,” I say, “and for you to find out.”

Meredith pushes us up against the wall of the club and kisses us hard on the mouth. She tastes and smells like whiskey. She doesn’t know that we have a girlfriend sleeping back at home; the other me doesn’t know either.

We kiss her back, our breath leaving our body like whispers.

Out in the parking lot, I unlatch my bike from the post after mucking around with my combination. We walk the bike the mile back to the house we rent with two roommates: a boy we went to high school with and another best friend soon to be gone from our life.

In our bedroom we come upon the sleeping girlfriend. The other me shoots me a look; it’s Anne.

“What is she doing here?” she whispers.

I bend to watch her chest rise and fall. “We don’t love her anymore,” I say.

“Well, what is she doing in our bed then? Why did we kiss that girl? Why don’t we love her?” She sits on the edge of the bed. Anne doesn’t stir. We have an unspoken arrangement, Anne and me. We are in a holding pattern, scared to move too far away from what we’ve always known. We won’t say girlfriend but we will cuddle every night between the hours of two AM and ten AM. In the morning, her best friend and subsequent platonic life partner will knock on our door, let himself in. They will breakfast in my kitchen: eggs and sausage and almonds. They will ride their bike into the sun and will not stop riding until their legs are so sore they can barely stand. She has sores from her bike seat. She has come a long way from when I first knew her, and I have come a different way, and there is no meeting place on our path except for in those brief eight hours when we sleep.

“This is no way to love,” I say to myself. “We’re too different now.”

“Yeah,” the other me says, “but it’s nice to have someone to share your bed with every night. Someone who cares about you.”

“We’re happier without her,” I say. “Remember the good stuff, sure, but don’t forget that there’s a reason we broke up in the first place.”

“I remember. I was there the first time around.” She reaches up to touch a necklace that isn’t there. She will still miss him, Daniel, in a way that is not strictly platonic, strictly the grief of losing a long-time friend to a black hole of illness. She will not have changed her number yet. He will call her for years, will make her wish she could close herself up. I forgot, but I saved her from all that too. When he slipped his necklace around our neck: “I never want to see anyone hurt you.” But his was the greatest hurt of all, unintentional. I still startle when I think I see him in a crowd.

“There were other reasons we broke up,” I say. “Daniel was a conven-ient excuse.”

We wake Anne. She holds us both. “You said you loved me,” I whisper so low she can’t hear. “But it was all gone at this point, wasn’t it?”

She kisses me on all four cheeks. “Go to sleep,” she says. “It’s too late for talking.”

I press my fingers to my lips where I can still feel a buzz from Meredith’s kiss.

“Enjoy this part,” I say to the other me. “That girl we saw tonight? She’s going to change our world. She’s going to be our friend for a long time. We’ll stay for the duration of this one, I think. I could use a little waking up.”

Relived memories pass like the regular kind: hazy and over too fast. Here we are having a breakfast of granola with our very first love. Anne. Here, at a friend’s party where Meredith, the cutest girl we’ve ever met, offers us greens on every bowl.

“I’m sort of seeing someone,” I say.

“Me too,” Meredith says. “Some dude. He lives here too.”

Meredith and I don’t kiss again until that night, too drunk to think straight, when she follows me home from a party. I remember walking. I remember telling myself to let her sleep on the mattress in the other room. I don’t remember grabbing her by the hand and pulling her toward the empty bedroom. I don’t have to remember it this time, because I’m here again. I don’t drink as much but I make the same choice. The other me stands helpless on the other side of the room.

Again? she mouths at me. She tries to tug me back, whispers, we’re not a cheater.

But how does the saying go? Once and always.

Meredith pulls my tights half-off and buries herself between my legs and it’s been so damn long since I felt anything fresh for anyone—sweat goes stale after too long on the body, and sunshine dims each evening—that I grip my hair tight in my hands and pull as hard as I can, a punishment for love, for the fuck-up of fucking another woman while Anne sleeps soundly in the bedroom we’ve shared since her new girlfriend Cathryn and her roommate Dana started fucking. I’m repeating a cycle she can’t escape from. It’s inevitable that we will end and begin like this again and again. I need to cut the cycle open, like a goddamn bedbug cuts its mate.

I’m supposed to fall asleep here. I pretend. Meredith stops, says my name. Shakes me a little. Huffs. Then she kisses me on the mouth, on the cheek. She brings my arm down over her shoulders and curls into me.

“So fucking cute,” she says. “I’m in some fucking trouble with you.”

This time, in the morning, I’m standing with Anne as she screams at me. My sister and her husband are there to pick up some things from the garage.

“Drama drama drama,” my sister says.

“We didn’t do anything,” I say. “I passed out drunk.”

“Why are you lying?” the other me says, leaning down to gather my underwear from the floor where I must have kicked them off. Meredith is on her way out the door.

“It’s the script,” I say. “It’s what I’m supposed to say.”

She shrugs. “What difference does it make if it’s verbatim?”

“Yeah fucking right,” says Anne. She leaves the house in a huff, skids out of the driveway in a haze of upturned gravel.

That night, I tell my friends I don’t remember a thing. “You had sex,” they say. “Meredith told us.”

“Shit.” I’m driving. I grip the steering wheel. “I’m such an asshole.”

“You already knew that,” the other me says.

At home, Anne waits for me. We’re supposed to go to a party together, our first party in years. She’s realized that we’re not long for our love. She’s begun to give me mementos from our past, to remind me that I was once hers and hers alone.

“Nothing happened?” she says.

“No,” I say. “Apparently, something did happen. I’m sorry. I don’t remember a thing. I must have blacked out.”

We talk over things, the word girlfriend, what it means to share a bed with someone, whether the world will end at the next scheduled apocalypse. We agree to try this thing officially. The other me rolls her eyes.

“You said this part was fun,” she says.

“It’s beautiful,” I say. “Everyone makes so many beautiful mistakes.”

But each morning Anne leaves. She returns each night. She finds a new place. We move her in. Meredith hangs on by a thread. Sometimes, when we’re all together, Meredith gets misty-eyed and abandons ship, texts me something sweet once she’s gone.

I can’t, I text back. I show the texts to Anne.

The other me throws her hands out. “This is already a shit show,” she says. But she’s starting to like Meredith. Sometimes they take shots of whiskey together and flirt on the couch.

Meredith, myself, and I stake trash bags to the grass outside, wet them down. We slip and slide. Anne watches from the sidelines, teases us all about acting like children. She mocks us when we drink too much. She doesn’t like to dance.

Meredith storms out one night, but this time when she texts it’s I won’t see you anymore. I don’t text her back. I know that she is serious. She doesn’t say things without meaning them.

“This isn’t working,” I say to Anne.

“It’s her, isn’t it?” Anne says.

“Yes and no. We keep trying but it’s just not there. You’re not here. I’m not here.”

“We’re at different places,” she says.

“This is absolutely the right decision,” the other me says. “Third time’s not quite the charm.”

Anne pushes her. “I like her,” she says. “She’s not as worn as you. Is that because she hasn’t fucked as many dudes?”

I purse my lips to keep from snarking back. Anne’s hurt. Even as we say goodbye, I’m itching for Meredith’s soft lips, for that leer that means I’m in for it. For those vulnerable nights when Meredith tells me, back turned, about depression. How it’s a thin word that will break if you push it too hard.

I call Meredith as soon as Anne leaves.

“I’m moving to Colorado in November,” Meredith whispers one night. That means we have four months, and it makes it sweeter, that end-date staring at us from the future. Meredith holds both of me. We imagine the day she’ll go. We feel comfortable with permanence as long as it’s temporary. We imagine ourselves kissing her as she loads herself into her car, our face wet and our voices strained at goodbye. We write a poem and call it “November.”

A month into our relationship, I pull Meredith into the kitchen and tell her that I love her because I know she wants to hear it and I can’t stop thinking about her. She flirts with other people and I don’t care because they’re just words and looks and it doesn’t impede what we have. She accuses me at every turn of loving other people.

But it’s her and her only. It’s her because she pulled me from a dangerous loop.

Then it’s still one month until our scheduled end, her move to Colorado, and I catch her with Cathryn. Meredith admits to it straightaway as we stand in the rain outside my house, hoodies up. The other me stands beside me. I tell Meredith to go.

“I mean, look at how you got together,” the other me says as we watch Meredith walk away down the sidewalk of our backyard.

“It’s not her leaving that gets to me,” I say.

“Then what is it?”

I shrug. “I’m hurt,” I say, “but it’s because she ruined what would have been a beautiful ending. She’s just a confused girl. She’s so young.”

“Not much younger than you.”

I shake my head. “No, she is,” I say. “She’ll grow up. But right now she’s young and scared, and I wouldn’t have known how to help her. It’s good that she’s going. I only wish she would have taken a different route.”

But down my back yard there is only one sidewalk. She pauses at the fence and looks back at me, her hoodie obscuring her red cheeks.

“Did we really love her?” The other me presses her hands against her chest, as though to warm her heart. “I can’t tell.”

“It’s hard,” I say. “I still don’t know.”

I grab hold of the other me’s hand. There’s only one path, and we’ve already traveled it.

Next thing, we’re in a garage apartment on Halloween. Across from us sits a butch woman in a Chick Magnet costume. We kiss her. We fade. Short and sweet.

“This next thing,” I say to the other me, “is something you may not understand.”

We’re in a room lit by the orange string of lights strung around its ceiling. Anne’s old roommate, Dana, stands naked at the foot of the mattress on the floor. She slaps a ruler against her open palm: Do you measure up? the ruler reads.

“Kiss her,” Dana says, motioning to Cathryn, Anne’s ex, the woman Meredith fucked. I kiss Cathryn. The other me furrows her eyebrow, pulls me away. Cathryn kisses Dana, the timid woman turned dominatrix-lite while I follow myself into the bathroom.

“What the fuck is this?” the other me says.

“I don’t know,” I say. “It’s revenge. It’s everything coming full circle.”

“It’s ugly,” she says. “It’s wrong.”

“No, there’s something beautiful in this,” I say. “It’s not immediate on the surface, but it’s a method of forgiveness.”

“Maybe sex shouldn’t be a vessel for forgiveness.”

“Sex can be whatever it needs to be. Sex can be whatever you want it to be. Sex can be nothing, even, if you play it right.”

I jerk away from myself. “You can’t judge things when you haven’t seen the whole story. You’ll see. You’ll know eventually. Sex isn’t about love all the time every time.”

She lets go and crosses her arms. “Shouldn’t it be?” she says, and I can’t tell if she’s telling or asking.

I shrug. “We’re not exactly the same people,” I say. “I can’t answer that for you.”

“Is this fun for you?” she says.

I think back, to the first time, the second time, the third time I slept with these two. A mess of memories. I thought, for a moment, I might find a routine with them both. But then the painful truth crept in: I wanted to forge my own path. If monogamy wasn’t for me, I wanted to find that on my own terms.

I never once thought monogamy wasn’t for me with Dover.

The truth of those threesomes with Cathryn and Dana: I wanted Dana, the woman who had never fucked me over, who had never slept with two of my exes, but in order to have sex with her, I had to have sex with Cathryn too. They were a matched pair even if Cathryn cheated on her. I was acutely aware that Cathryn was both superior and inferior to me simultaneously. That women chose to be with me in the light and her in the dark. That women got from her what they couldn’t get from me.

“It’s not particularly fun,” I say to myself. “But you never know if you don’t try.”

One thing I was always proud of: I knew what I really needed, and maybe I tried to need something different, maybe I tried many things, but I was always honest, in the end, with myself.

“I guess,” she says. “I’m so tired. Doesn’t this get tiring?”

She’s still the relationship one. The one who wants a promise before the naked glimpse.

I remember not-sleeping. I remember crying until my cheeks burned. I remember lying on my wood floor and playing the same song over and over. Heartbreak is terrible and wonderful and numbing, and I missed it when I was stable.

“It’s hard,” I say.

“Then why not stop?”

“Because it’s all hard. Not just this. Everything. Being alive,” I say. “It’s hard, but it’s what you know and so you go with it. Go with it.”

“I’ll go with it,” she says. “If it seems like something worth going with.”

I peek out the door. She’s right; I didn’t enjoy this night, or the night after, or the night after. I wanted complicated and I got complicated.

I grab her hand. “You’re right,” I say.

My muscles ache. My mind’s numb, not just my body.

“I need a break,” I say. “This is the part where I need to be by myself.”

“Let’s do that then,” she says. “Let’s be by ourselves.”

We spend the week we would have been with Cathryn and Dana writing, reading. We don’t go to class; what’s the point, when we’ll only have to leave again and forget all we learned about Physical Anthropology and Statistics. We spend evenings with friends who will later move away.

One night I buy a gram of weed and place it into a metal tin. FOR DOVER, I write on it. FROM YOUR SECRET ADMIRER. We drive by her house and leave it on her doorstep. She might think it’s creepy. She’ll probably think it’s a prank being played by her friends. But she’ll smoke it nonetheless.

I try to see her through the front window, but there’s no one home.

At home I show the other me her picture on Facebook. “This is it,” I say. “This is her. Maybe you can do it different, when you get there. Maybe you can keep from fucking it up.”

She tries to smile. “If I’m you,” she says, “doesn’t that mean we’ll make the same mistakes?”

This is where I said I would leave her. But I don’t want to let her go. I stay a little longer.

We go to the astronomy center for their monthly star party. We lay on a blanket and name the constellations. She remembers many that I can no longer name. I know only a few she hasn’t yet learned.

“What do we do, in the future?” she asks.

“It’s a surprise,” I say. I can’t tell her about the numerous shitty desk jobs, the two years of cleaning houses, writing essays on the side, in stolen hours, losing friends to make time, trimming the fat to make time. No more painting. No more running. Until we catch a break: one book deal, then two, then a third. Dover’s celebratory dances. Then the stress. Then the disappointment that success did not fill the void. Then a man who came along and made me feel desired again. Then the need for a wreckage that would move the rock blocking me from more, from new ideas. A stalemate of a house. Another advance, this one enough to pay for the procedure but no more than the one trip through.

At the end of our week, myself and I are watching a movie on my old beat-up couch, and I get a phone call from a guy who was in one of my classes, someone I used to buy weed from and flirt with when there wasn’t anyone else in the picture. The tattooed misfit. Jeremiah asks me over. I look over at the woman who is both me and not-me. She won’t like this one: no-emotions, hardly even a kiss between us.

I try to hold on, but I feel us slipping into his apartment. And if we don’t, if I let us keep ourselves from going there, we won’t get to our final destination.

Because I don’t want to shield her from the ugliness that is sex with the wrong people—because I want to instill in her that regrets will not ruin us—I keep us there long enough that she can see our mistake, long enough that she can look him in his face, then go. Go again. Go again. Go again. Jeremiah and Michael and Grayson and Eliot.

“What are you doing?” she asks. “Who are these people?”

“They’re the low before the high,” I say.

When we wake up in Eliot’s strange bed, our memories wiped by too much booze, I look over at my own wounded and confused face.

Eliot drives us home. He jokes about herpes.

“This guy’s a real asshole,” the other me says.

I sit with her on our couch. “He is,” I say. “But Dover is next.”

“As long as you know.” She crosses her arms. “I don’t trust your taste at all. What if I don’t like Dover?”

I shrug. “You won’t,” I say, “at first.” I grab her hand. “Are you ready?”

She looks so scared and so rundown that I hardly recognize her. I think of the past few years: years of rundown and scared, scared of everything. How Dover must have seen that in me day after day and still loved me. How Dover loved me even after I fucked someone else. How she insisted we stay together, work it out. How I couldn’t look at her anymore. How it was me who walked out the door and made her realize that she could live without me.

“Let’s go,” I say, and then we’re off. We’re in Dover’s bedroom. We’re kissing. As innocent as fools. Dover’s lips are beautiful and terrible, a reminder I wanted nothing more than to have. Her glasses hit mine and her violinist hands tangle themselves in my hair and she is a different person. I am a different person. The other me watches, her hand at her chest. I imagine the other me is stricken with a feeling like remembering something you never knew.

I push my finger against Dover’s lips. She gives me a goofy grin. It doesn’t suit her, too drunken, her weed-eyes half-closed.

Dover doesn’t love me yet. I don’t love her yet. When we first meet someone, we cannot love them. As we remain in one another’s company, we absorb pieces of the other: a party trick. Only once we are part of this other person, only once they are part us, can we love them. Narcissism at its best. It will take us six months to amalgamate.

I look over at the other me. I step out of the bed. Dover’s room is a mess of dirt and dirty clothes: failed gardening experiments and the slovenliness that comes from college living. She’s cute like a child is cute. So is the other me. I miss the Dover who loved me, the one who stood by me through disappointment, the one I held when she needed it. But that Dover isn’t mine to kiss anymore. I’ve spent a long time trying to get back someone who isn’t here. I wrap my arms around my other self. Her heart hammers.

“Don’t leave,” she says. But I let go and jump before she can stop me.

“No thanks,” I say to the next man, unwrapping myself from him. I’m alone, the other me still in that world-before-the-fall. “I’ve got to get home.” I climb out of his bed. I fall into the dark. This time it catches me.

The doctor waits with me until I wake. She hands me a box of juice and a cracker. It has been less than six hours since I went in. She checks her watch as I drag the juice box straw across my lips.

“Was it worth it?” she asks as I sit up in her chair. She hands me the paperwork to take to the front desk, sign. There’s no price on it, as though numbers don’t exist, as though to trick me into forgetting what I’ve done until I emerge from the fog. There will be a number later: delivered to my mailbox.

“Is it ever?” I say.

I walk home, too drowsy to drive. I pick up my phone and dial Dover’s number. Her voicemail picks up, as it always does when I call these days.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want anything from you,” I say. “I want you to hear this and come running back. But I’m not going to ask it. I’ll do what you requested. I’ll leave you alone now. I only needed to say, because I don’t think I ever did, not really, not without bending it in the hopes that it would pull you back. I’m sorry I cheated on you. That mistake was on me. I hope you’re happy where you are. I hope you’re safe. I hope you can forget the good parts enough to move on. I hope—”

The voicemail cuts me off. I stand in the desolate street and stare at the bright screen.

Press 2 to start over, the phone says.

I press 2. I hang up. I walk home.

(Editors’ Note: Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)


And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands

(Content note for incest and child death.)

Well, Your Honours, it is true that I killed your child king, indeed it is true.

You asked me how I came to know your tongue, before you put me in this cell. You broke my twig fingers one by one and asked me what I am, and what my reasons were, and how these events transpired.

Shall I tell you a tale?

The first king taught me your English. I still remember the day he stumbled into my forest, shivering like a sapling in a sudden frost. Both his knees were skinned beneath his schoolboy’s shorts, ruby scabs as rough as bark. He made little mewling noises. His face shone as white as birch beneath the moon.

Help me, help me. I knew what he was saying, even though his voice was thin and reedy, even though I’d never seen such a branchless creature as he before. The language of entreaty is all the same, no matter where you are. We once spoke many languages in my land. The trees whispered the language of the sky, and the sky hummed the language of the birds, and the birds of course sang all three.

All that changed, when the first boy-king came.

It is not true that we only lived in perpetual cold, before. He came in snow and sleet, yes, but it was the very last of the winter storms. The jewel-green grass of spring already waited beneath the melt. It is not true that a witch ruled our world, unless witch is the word Your Honours use for all beings who are so powerful and so free that they can rule themselves. We knew no kings and no queens before him, and we shall again know none.

It is particularly untrue that he forgot his home and then wept when he returned to it, years later, back in his little boy’s body.

Are you shocked, Your Honours? I know you have a story in your world about a boy who lied and lied until finally the beasts of the field could no longer stand his falsehoods.

Time passes differently in our world than it does in yours. Your boy-king returned home many times, and the first was on the very same night he found us. I’d sheltered him in my branches as best I could, small, huddled thing as he was. I pitied him, yes. So I called together badger and beaver to warm him, an entire clutch of rabbits to lay in his lap and curl about his cold hands. I lifted him from the icy earth and pressed him close to my heart until his shaking limbs stilled. When the storm subsided, I sent a deer to lead him back home. Perhaps the way through was a puddle or a wardrobe or a painting back then. I do not know.

He came back to us weeks later. He brought his sister. I suppose only an hour or two had passed for him. I was glad to see them both. I waved my branches and shook my leaves for joy.

What followed was a happy season, or so I thought. The boy brought his schoolbooks and read them to me, the pages nearly translucent, like the skin of your eyelids. He loved your Kipling, your Defoe, and your Stevenson. What grand stories of adventure the men of your world wrote. His sister wove garlands of flowers to drape among my budding leaves. She laughed at my first clumsy attempts to speak to them, trying to shape your consonants and vowels with limbs and hollows that before knew only the language of leaf-rustle and twig-snap. Her delight was like the glimmer of the first star of evening to me.

She taught me that your words for sap-rise-and-soft-warm-rain are spring is coming. That season-rings meant years, or maybe stories. That once-winter is sleep and forever-winter is death.

And root-place?

Home, she said. England.

The battles were all in your world, then. The boy told me of a war, still being waged, that had made orphans of them both. The girl spoke of hiding in a dark cellar as fire fell from the sky. She was afraid down there, amongst the dirt and crabbed roots of things. I thought it strange to be frightened of mere soil, but I suppose for your kind there is no comfort in the ground or in the grave. You cannot taste the sunlight in the loam, all those small sparks of life.

Little wonder that we took them in, told them to stay here where the days were warming and the nights were safe. I thought nothing of it when the boy declared himself a king in my world. Mere play and pretense, I thought, like the pirates and the explorers of the books he loved, that he had taught me to love as well. What harm could there be in it? They both still seemed so small and fragile to me. And besides, they missed their England and their English kings. Little harm in a title that reminded them of their old home, or so I thought.

Little harm in letting them carve their names into my trunk, when they were teaching me how to write in your English. Little harm in any of it.

The war in your world raged on.

They stayed, and grew, and grew up.

I rejoiced to see them so tall and strong. His voice deepened like the rumble of an ancient tree crashing to the forest floor. She was fair of hair and long-limbed, and wilder far than he. On full moon nights, she would throw off all her clothing and run beneath the sky with the hares and deer, the pale skin of her heels flashing among the darting animals. He watched her inattentively at first, then with more notice.

Her belly grew large and round with child. Of course it did.

Your Honours find that far more shocking than we do. I know this from the English books she used to read to me, about mad wives locked away, madness bred sap-heavy into the blood by brothers and sisters. Beasts of the forest have no laws against siblings pairing, nor do we marry or give in marriage, in my world. We have no word for what they did, because one does not name unremarkable things.

Your war ended on the night their first son came into the world, squalling like a summer storm. They placed him in my branches and asked me to give him a name in the language of the trees.

I loved him. Oh, how I loved him.

There was much to do in your world, after the war, much to rebuild. They spent more and more time there. Our king told us how the land had been devastated, how homes had fallen into rubble and fields lay cold and quiet. We listened to these stories and led him to hidden quarries where he could cut stone in our world, to fertile fields for harvest, to the hidden caches of squirrels and birds to find seeds for planting. He thanked us for these gifts. He said they would gladden the hearts of the rulers of his world and that, if those personages were pleased, perhaps there could be a treaty between us. Perhaps we could even pass through into your world like he had done into ours.

What did we care for treaties, we whose pacts were made with sun and seasons? But oh, to enter another world. That would be a marvel to behold.

I, shameful to tell, preened beneath their attention then. I, whom they named Dryad, advisor to the king, chosen from all the beasts of the field and forest to know their secrets and raise their children. I longed to see England with my own eyes. It was like a myth to me, or the memory of a dream recounted. I thought that if they returned to it forever, I would gladly root myself beside the door of their home. I could be glad never to speak or roam the forest again, if only I could be with them.

Time passed on your side of the door between our worlds, but it passed more swiftly on ours. Did Your Honours never wonder how they had such a ready supply of timber and wheat, cotton and flax, in those months and years when your people needed it most? Did you never question how they got their fine jewels and their gold, where their skeins of wool came from? No one, as far as I know, looked into their origins, this man and woman who came from nowhere. Perhaps no one ever questioned how their many visiting cousins looked so like them, like enough to be their children if they weren’t all of an age. And if they sometimes stepped back into a room too quickly after they’d left it, or if you sometimes heard the sigh of ocean waves in their hallways, or if the puddles by their country home sometimes reflected more than just the sky above, well, the eccentricities of the rich are readily forgiven, particularly if the rich share their plunder.

I don’t know which of them first had the idea, but on the day that my forest began ringing with the sound of axes, it was their oldest child, their firstborn son, my beloved boy, whom they sent to me. He was now  as tall as his father, and nearly as old, for he’d spent most of his life in our world, whiling the years away as his parents charmed all of England. I was aghast, pacing to and fro in the forest, biting down on my twig fingers so I wouldn’t scream as his siblings cut down tree after tree.

“Dryad,” he said to me, “these trees are not as you are. They cannot feel. They are not alive. We need them, Dryad. Don’t you see? The people of England need them.”

I should have banished them all that day, but I looked down into his face, into those eyes that had first opened and looked out at the world while I held him, and I could not bring myself to find any guile in them.

The younger tree-beings of the forest scoffed at my distress. They had only ever known the rule and language of humans. Obedience to our kings and queens came as naturally to them as leaf-fall.

“They are not killing any of the talking animals or the walking trees, Dryad,” they scolded me. “You can hardly even call what they are doing killing.”

So I remained quiet, though I could still remember a time when the forests swayed with dancing, and when every tongue spoken by every animal was considered its own language. Slowly, such speech had fallen out of favour, replaced by our king’s English, and now there were many creatures whom the younger generations scorned as unable to speak at all. They did not understand how thick the silence of the fields and waters and skies had grown through the years.

What more is there to tell? They took and took and took, and there was no gainsaying them, not when they began to bring your guns into our world. War, it turns out, is the easiest thing of all to make anywhere.

Our war began on a winter’s evening, with the snow blanketing the fields and making lumpen tree stumps of rocks and bushes alike. The air rang clear and cold, and the sun sank behind the horizon in a twilight haze of blue and purple. My beloved boy, now bearded and bronzed like a summer acorn, with children of his own, came to me and placed his arms about my trunk as far as he could reach. His cheek rested warm and alive against my bark.

“Dryad,” he murmured, voice low and soft as a lover’s, “are we hated here? I’ve heard rumours, that the birds have been whispering, that the bears are not sleeping in their caves, that the beavers are diverting a river to flood the valley where the door between our worlds stands.”

I was shocked, and told him so. If there was such sedition, I had heard not a word of it. I came to know later that of course I wouldn’t have. The conspirators had kept it all from me, every word, because they knew that I was England’s creature, not one of their own, not any longer.

“I do not believe you,” he replied, just as quietly, nearly as dreamily as before. I was still slow to understand. Too slow to understand the threat as he hefted the axe from his belt. Too slow to run.

He buried the axe into my trunk with a single stroke that sounded like a struck bell. He hacked and hewed until the place where his parents once carved their names was a gaping wound, sap-shiny and blank.

You may think, Your Honours, that creatures from our world have wild minds and no hearts. I do not know if our hearts are made of the same stuff as yours, but I know that I have one just as surely as you do, and that mine broke that day.

I was to serve as a warning, thus always unto traitors, but perhaps I served too well. The anger that had been gathering steadily but silently broke like a thundercloud. For, the beasts of the fields and forests reasoned with each other, if they could treat even Dryad thus, our masters would spare none of the rest.

It was a terrible time. Such weapons your armies have created, through all the wars your world has waged. I would dream, for decades after, of the sound of gunfire like lions roaring and the stench of gunpowder hanging heavy in the air. What story they told themselves of what they were doing, I do not know. But surely they made themselves the heroes of those tales.

What saved us in the end was that they were few, our kings and queens, and we were many. They had never trusted anyone in England with their secrets. And so when they mustered against us, it was only with their children and grandchildren, the very girls and boys we ourselves had raised to adulthood, and the few trees and animals who could not bear to part with them.

Still, it took a year and a day to drive them out. And many more years to reckon with what they had taken from us.

When the floodwaters receded from the door to your world, I rooted myself beside it. I stood sentinel. There were still those who missed being ruled, though fewer and fewer with each season, and I would not let them pass.

Legends of another world grew on your side of the door, but they also grew on ours. The curious began to come to me, begging for stories. Was it true that we were once the jewel of a shining empire? Was it true that all the forests once rang with joy and all the beasts of the field had been tame when we’d had a king and queen? What lay beyond this door, and why could they not see it?

I did not forget. I could not forget, and I saw to it that they did not forget either.

I taught saplings the old language of the trees, taught them how to whisper with leaf and branch. The birds had sung their songs all along, and the bears still spoke in their half-snuffle, half-growl, but the bees and the fish and the fireflies had all lost their powers of speech entirely.

I grew tall and old, and older still, and all who’d once known our king and queen died.

My vigil began to appear strange to those with no memory of our war. There were rumours that my mind was going. Mad Dryad. Sad Dryad. Animals skirted my valley and tree-beings ceased their visits. I became as forgotten as England was.

But still I watched, and still I waited, as season after season whirled overhead. I wondered, sometimes, if I had indeed become Mad Dryad. Mad with grief and regret. Poisoned with longing.

Then there came the day when I saw what I was waiting for.

It shocked me that they sent a boy so small. His legs were unsteady as he toddled through the door, arms windmilling out for balance. Perhaps they thought this was the best strategy. Perhaps they thought old Dryad’s heart could still be softened as before.

I’d been rooted for so long that I’d nearly lost the memory of how to move. The effort peeled off great gashes of my bark and splintered bits of my trunk, but I reached out to him. He, trusting fool, reached back for me.

I bound him within my branches and I pressed him to my heart. He thought it a game, at first. My bark reached and spread, until his breath came in sharp gasps, until the wood crept over his face and he could breathe no more. I held him long past the moment his struggling limbs stilled and the sound of his crying was no longer tangled with mine.

And then I stepped over the border between your world and ours, and I laid his small, sap-drowned body at the threshold on your side. I waited and waited, and then Your Honours came and brought me to this cell.

I know now why my girl-queen hated the dark beneath the earth here. There is no sunlight in this soil. It is rank with dead and dying things.

I do not want your mercy or your forgiveness. I do not know what I will be, when you find me in the morning, with this story I have carved into my own trunk and my branches. Even now I feel my leaves droop and wither, the sticky, slow seep of my sap. I will not move nor speak again. A mere tree in England, at last.

Perhaps you will cut me down and take me to be burnt, as you once did to your witches. But you will not be able to prise my roots up from this cell. I have sunk them too deep. And you will not find your way back into my world. I broke the door behind me and sealed the way from this side. You will never find it again, not even if you searched for a thousand summers and a thousand winters.

You taught your boy-king that our world was his to shape to his own image. He thought we were but characters in his grand story, but I know now that our story was always ours, and it shall be again.

Farewell, my root-place.

Farewell, sap-rise-and-soft-warm-rain.

Now for one last dreaming, and then my forever-winter.

(Editors’ Note: “And All the Trees of the Forest Shall Clap Their Hands” is read by Joy Piedmont on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast, Episode 32B.)