With You

Three months after the husband and wife switched bodies, they came to the conclusion that they were both interested in having sex with what had once been themselves. This was not strange, they agreed. Anyone would feel the same if they could only admit it, but they couldn’t deny that it had taken some time to feel comfortable with the idea.

Allie was standing in the kitchen peeling the flat, wet skin out of the garlic press. She never threw it out, but instead chopped it into slivers and called it medicine, saying it’s good for the heart. Morgan watched her thumb it out of the press, clumsy with her nubby male fingers.

“But will we truly be having sex with ourselves?” she asked.

He thought about the question. “I would think so.”

“It would be my own body, of course.” Allie looked at the peculiar ceiling with the textured chunks that she hated as though trying to focus her eyesight on an abstraction. “But you’d be inside of it. You would move differently and say different things. Would it really be me at all?”

He considered this. “That is the question, I guess. It’s philosophy at that point.” Morgan stood at the table. He poured a glass of black tea and did not add honey, then sipped it only to see how it tasted on her little, pink tongue. It still reminded him of hot dirty water. “I suppose we could get into epistemology,” he said. He stood, crossed the kitchen, and placed the warm mug into Allie’s larger hands. He loved her. “Or we could just try. Do you think we will ever get a closer chance than this?”

*   *   *

At night, she lay on his side of the bed and he lay on hers. When they had first woken to the surprise of being switched, they had tried swapping places. Yet, though their minds had fit, their bodies had felt out of place, and they returned to their original spots. The halves had molded to their spines.

“Why do you want to make love to yourself?” Morgan asked.

Allie looked at him and squinted, cornered. “Are you having second thoughts about it? Why do you, then?”

“Relax,” he whispered. “You aren’t on trial. I’m not having second thoughts.”

“Oh,” she said.

Morgan placed his hands on his breasts, feeling them through the shirt. “Are you attracted to yourself?” he asked.

Allie placed her hands on top of his, as she had once done to the globe in her first-grade classroom. She had shouted, “Wherever my fingers land, that’s where I will go.” The sphere unwound, and she arrowed in on Mongolia. Mongolia it would be, but it never was.

“Of course I’m attracted to myself,” she said. “Aren’t you?”

“Attracted to you?”

“No, attracted to you.”

He closed his eyes for a moment. “Huh. I’ve never thought of it before.” He smiled.

She squeezed his hands over his breasts. “They feel smaller in these hands,” she said.

“I never thought so, when they were mine.” Morgan moved his hands beneath hers.

Allie thought about the exchange of pressure and warmth, from her hands to his hands to his breasts, or from his hands to hers to her breasts. It was hard to tell. She said, “They feel different to me, from this side.” She closed her eyes. “That’s not why I want to make love to myself.”

“Because of the breasts?”

She shook her head. “No, because I’m attracted to myself. I don’t want to do it because I’m attracted to myself.”

“Then why?”

“I don’t know yet,” she said.

*   *   *

Allie’s friend, Jen, was single and always wore sweaters the color of sand. Earthy tones, she called them. They were packed at a round bistro table in a square corner at a patisserie where people made giant cakes from Heath Bars and Almond Joys. The Tenth Annual Fine Beverage Retailers Conference was scheduled for later that month, and Allie and Jen were making plans for a booth with tea samples and brochures.

Jen chewed the inside of her cheek and stirred coconut oil into her coffee. The oil makes you detox, she always said, the rash is just the toxins leaving through your pores.

“I don’t think the sex is a ‘weird kinky’ thing,” Allie told her friend.

“So does that make you homosexuals?” Jen asked.

“No, why would it?”

“Well, you are a woman who wants to have sex with a woman and he is a man who wants to have sex with a man.”

“It’s not so simple. I want to make love to myself, with Morgan in my body.”

Jen jiggled her eyebrows up and down. “Exactly.”

“It’s not the same thing,” Allie said.

Things had been different with Jen since Allie had changed. Where others had been surprised and pitying, Jen had seemed almost eager. Something about her friend’s voice had begun to make Allie wince. It now rippled across her skin and swam toward her lips.

Jen reached across the table and grabbed Allie’s hand in a way she had never done before. “Are you attracted to yourself?” she asked.

“Of course,” Allie said, once again, and decided not to explain this time.

“You don’t find that curious?”

“No. Should I?” She had begun to wonder.

Jen turned Allie’s hand over and pressed their palms together, warm. She traced over the lifelines on Allie’s new hand and lapped her fingers at the skin.

Allie let her friend continue stroking. “Do you want me?” she asked.

Jen stopped, “You, or him?”

“Both.”

“Perhaps.”

“Does that make you homosexual?” Allie felt her tongue behind her teeth. Jen was the type of person who, as a teenager, stole things from department stores and never understood why she shouldn’t.

“Of course not.”

“Are you attracted to my husband?” Allie asked.

“Of course,” Jen smiled. Her teeth were white and shining, like a flashlight over a neon spray-painted mark at the trunk of a tree.

Allie slid her hand away. She did not want to ask before or after.

*   *   *

 At work, Morgan sat with his arms folded in his cube. The numbers on the digital clock gleamed and continued to remind him that only a few moments had passed. He spent his days waiting for someone to be injured during their route, or perhaps die, so he could write a report.

Mr. Peters, his boss, walked by. He stopped, backed up, and leaned against the opening of the cube.

“Hello,” Mr. Peters said.

“Oh, hi. Thanks for stopping in.”

“Of course, friend.” Mr. Peters was round and always seemed to have an eyeful of something hilarious. “You’re looking swell today, in my opinion. But you know, your wife was really a much better woman.” Mr. Peters chuckled.

“Yes,” Morgan said.

When the switch first happened, Mr. Peters— along with everybody else— had needed proof, so Morgan told Mr. Peters about how, the year before, he had walked in to find him in the copy room with his secretary, Elaine, half-dressed. He did not want to retell this story to Mr. Peters, but he did anyway. Morgan had become accustomed to whispering dirty secrets to people just to prove he existed. In a way, it flattered him that nobody thought he might have told those secrets to Allie.
“She had such grace when she came here to visit, the way she carried herself. And she knew just how to make her hair lay and her eyes pop.”

Mr. Peters was not the first to say such a thing. Morgan really didn’t have an eye for color patterns and makeup was a foreign language. He looked much shabbier in this body than his wife had.

Mr. Peters crossed the office. He patted Morgan on the shoulder and said, “That’s okay. Think, she had her whole life to get that good. You’ll catch the hang of it.” Mr. Peters also had a way with mixing idioms.

“Thanks, Mr. Peters.”

Mr. Peters left and Jane walked past. She waved, her delicate fingers spread like a finger-painted sun. Morgan had always found her beautiful and kind. He waved back then looked at the clock.

*   *   *

Allie’s sister, Dana, visited one afternoon that week with her three-year-old daughter. They talked mostly about their parents’ new relationships while the girl chased the dog through the parlor.

“I don’t know how you afford to dress in those leather loafers,” Dana said. “Mark wouldn’t be able to buy those, and we make just as much money as you two.”

“So you’ve said before.” Allie had hoped her sister might be less competitive now, but she had not done well to hide her grin as she glanced at Allie’s flat chest and large shoulders after the switch. Perhaps that’s why, Allie thought, she was so willing to accept it.

Allie looked at the red sofa and felt as though the fibers were creeping up her neck. She wanted to be relieved that some things hadn’t changed, like Dana’s hatefulness, but she knew she couldn’t choose the parts that remained the same. “I’m just trying to get acclimated to this body the right way, I suppose.”

“Why would you bother getting acclimated? Are you taking to it?” Dana had always thought Allie vain.

“I’m starting to think I don’t have a choice.” These were the types of things Allie said when she just wanted to say yes or no.

The two women sat in silence for several minutes, watching the girl tumble over the new painted rug.

“So now you won’t have to worry what people say about you not having kids,” Dana said. She smiled. She liked to pretend that she was a nice person after she said something rude.

“I wasn’t worried.” Allie stood up and swept her niece up into the air. The child laughed, and with the girl on her shoulders, Allie felt like a green jungle mountain in Mexico where Monarch butterflies rest at the end of their migration. “Besides,” she laughed, “I think now I am ready for a family.”

Now you’re ready?”

“Yes, now. Of course I’m ready now.” Allie felt like no one understood her.

Dana shook her head, but Allie didn’t so much mind being looked at strangely any more. The little girl brushed her fingers through the hairs on Allie’s chin. She looked at the child and pictured herself holding a tiny baby wrapped in an Afghan, and she could see herself standing tall in Italian loafers, where before she had only seen a blank space.         

When her sister left, Allie gathered the trash from the kitchen can and carried it to the street, because she knew it would be difficult for her husband to lug it down the front walk and hoist it into the dumpster.

*   *   *

Three months and three days after they switched bodies, Morgan and Allie lay in bed naked under only the sheet. They could feel the wind of the fan through the thin silk.

“Would you help me with my hair and makeup?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “It takes a certain touch. One you’ve got to acquire.”

“I don’t look like you.” He wanted to do his wife justice.

“No, you look like you.”

“Aren’t you worried I’ll give you a bad rap? I may just quit with it all together and wear a poncho every day.” Morgan poked at his wife. Allie had begun to speak with such certainty. Then, he supposed she always had. Perhaps now he only heard it in a different way.

“That’s your choice,” she answered. “Besides, I’ve had to spend hours, days, maybe even years, of my life dealing with a morning routine, and now, I want to sleep in.”

“That’s fair,” he said, feeling whipped. “Won’t you be embarrassed when we switch back?”

“What makes you think we will?” she asked.

Morgan thought about it. “Could you put your arms around me?”

“Of course,” she said. “I like reaching all the way around you.”

Morgan let Allie envelope him in her large arms. They were heavy and firm, like the safety harness on an upside-down coaster. He thought for a moment that maybe this was how it had felt for her, before, wrapped in his arms, but really he knew that Ali had always been the harness, with or without heavy arms.

*   *   *

In Morgan’s mother’s kitchen, there were rows upon rows of grapes on the wallpaper. Another paper runner cut the grape scene in half. It was decorated with apples and bananas, and yet more grapes scattered in between. Growing up, his mother would say, “That’s like comparing apples to bananas,” and point to the runner, proud. His father would then say, “What’s it like comparing grapes to thousands of other grapes?”

Morgan sat in the kitchen while his mother combed his hair. “I’ve always wanted a daughter,” she said. Her hands were playful kitten paws. At first, she had given Morgan a break for his shabby appearance, but now his mother clucked her tongue when she looked at his dry elbows and bitten nails.

“Mom, you already have a daughter,” he said.

“Oh, your sister is no daughter. She’s barely older than a teenager and such a girl. She just wants to be exactly not like me.”

“It will pass,” he said.

She took his hands into her own. “Let me paint your nails, like I used to do for Sissy.”

“Ok, Mom.” He sighed as she bounced away to choose a creamy, royal color that Allie would never have worn. When she returned, he said, “I’m not your daughter, you know. I’m your son.”

She pointed at the wallpaper. “What’s the difference?”

He looked at the runner and frowned. “You tell me.”

*   *   *

Jen lay stretched-out on her stomach in the living room floor of her apartment surrounded by packages of individually-wrapped tea bags with names like “Fulfill-mint” and “Right Where You Oolong.” Allie arranged them into colored piles. They would pass them as samples at the conference.

Jen rolled onto her back and put one hand in the air. She arched herself into a banana and her shirt fell up to her ribs. Allie noticed that her belly button was deep and had a narrow opening, unlike her own, which was so shallow that it never trapped lint. Then, she realized that the shallow belly-button no longer belonged to her, but to Morgan, and she didn’t know her own navel at all.

Jen fell flat on the floor again, spreading her skirt into a fan around her. “We’ll make more sales this year,” she said, “because of your cock.”

Allie had begun to untuck her shirt. “What do you mean?”

“Women love getting attention from handsome men.” Jen watched Allie pulling the shirt tails from her pants. “And men, well, men trust other men.”

“Does that mean I’ll be doing all the work?” Allie undid the bottom three buttons of her shirt.

“No.” Jen was staring. She smiled. “Everyone loves me.”

Allie stood and sat on the couch. Her shirt hung loose. She slid her hands over her stomach. It felt well-oiled. The belly button was deep. Her finger would not easily fit inside.

Jen sat up and said, “What are you doing?” She crawled across the rug on her hands and knees, moving towards Allie to take a closer look. Jen took no notice of personal boundaries. Time and time again, Allie had watched her hand on Morgan like a coat.

“I haven’t felt my own belly button,” Allie said. She tried to insert her pinky finger into her navel, but it was too large, as well. She settled for tracing the opening, a narrow ring rimmed with crinkly hairs. She said, “This is my belly button, and it’s my finger that won’t fit inside.”

Jen grinned. “You’re odd sometimes.”

“Look who’s talking.”

Jen crawled closer, until she had wedged herself between Allie’s knees. She started with her hands, placing the palms flat against the inside of either thigh and pushing them upwards. When she reached the top of Allie’s slacks, she ran her hands over the pale stomach, then around the sides. They settled on Allie’s waist.

Allie watched her friend. She thought to ask What are you doing?, but she already knew. What she didn’t know completely was why she allowed it. She had never thought to want her friend before. She wondered if her husband had.

Before Allie could decide either way, Jen stuck her tongue out and licked the line between Allie’s pants and navel.

Allie closed her legs upon her, wedging her back out onto the rug. She sat for a moment, then asked, “Is that the move you use?”

Jen rocked back onto her rear and crossed her legs. “Occasionally.”

“And people like it?”

“Of course. Why wouldn’t they?”

Allie shrugged.

Jen lowered herself back onto the rug until her back was flat against it. She stretched her arms out like crucifixion on top, yoga on bottom. She called this her healing pose.

Allie began to re-button her shirt. She sometimes hated Jen. “Have you always wanted to fuck my husband?” she asked.

Jen opened her mouth wide, then laughed.

*   *   *

In the break room at work, Jane was eating a sandwich. Morgan entered and sat down across from her.

“How’s it going, Jack?” she said. Jane had always used nicknames, and she hadn’t changed his after the switch.

“Jane, can I ask you something?” He knew she would be honest.

“Alright.”

“My wife and I have decided that we want to make love to ourselves now that we have switched bodies.” Morgan watched Jane’s blank face and plush, rounded cheeks.

“Is that so? That’s quite a rare experience.”

“Indeed.”

“Why do you want to do this?” said Jane.

Morgan hesitated. “Because I love her.”

Jane nodded. “And why does she?

He thought to say, because she loves herself, but he was in a bad mood. He didn’t mean it. “I’ve become unsure about it,” he said.

“Why’s that?”

Morgan held his breath for a moment, then worried the pressure might cause wind to burst from his lips with a wet, gassy whistle. He only knew these lips from the outside, so he released. “Do you think my wife will prefer making love to a woman once she has tried it?”

Jane stopped chewing her sandwich. “Are you asking because I’m a lesbian?”

Morgan thought of Jane and his wife running away to make love on a deserted island, most likely in Micronesia, if he knew his wife. Then, he wasn’t sure if he was thinking of his wife or himself because of the nature of things. He felt lonely. He laid his hands across his lap only to realize that it was no longer necessary. “Yes.”

“Listen,” Jane laughed. “I’ve never made love to a woman using a flesh and blood penis.”

“True,” he said.

“If she likes it more, it’s because she likes fucking like a man, not just fucking women. That’s a whole different ball game.”

“Ah,” he turned and stared away as the thought sank in.

Jane began to clean up her lunch things. “Here’s the problem: Have you thought about if you might like it more?”

“Like what more?” he asked.

“Like taking it from a man, of course.” She rolled her eyes.

“No, I guess I haven’t thought of that.”

Jane stood up to leave. “Of course you haven’t. That’s what’s wrong with men.”

*   *   *

The night before they were set to make love, they went to bed early. They hadn’t had much room for words that evening, and still didn’t speak as they lay side-by-side in the dark. Each of them did, however, hold on to the other’s hand. Allie though of Jen— the way she took things without asking. Morgan thought of Allie— the way she seemed to belong anywhere.

*   *   *

Jane invited Morgan out for a drink with some of her girlfriends after work. This was something she had not done before.

As they sat at the Sky Bar on the top floor of a hotel waiting for the rest of the group, he said, “Thanks for bringing me along, Jane.” He wondered if she was attracted to him now. He couldn’t imagine why she would be. Jane with such a flattering fruit shape and he with a tangle that he couldn’t comb out still hanging in his hair. He watched her sip a red drink from a martini glass, her lips plush like satin throw pillows on the rim.

“Of course,” Jane smiled. “I just thought you might need a night out.”

Morgan said, “It will be nice to meet some women like me.”

“Like you?” Jane asked.

“Yes, who love other women.”

Jane took another sip of her drink. Her eyes were tender. “I’m not sure we are so much the same, Morgan. Are you calling yourself a woman?”

Morgan stopped. He hadn’t meant to say ‘woman’ in that way. “I don’t know.” He looked at his lap. “I haven’t thought that far.”

Jane took his hand. Her nails were polished shiny Russian red. She kissed the top of his hand. Morgan sat still. She was a beautiful woman. But the kiss hadn’t felt like he had imagined a kiss from Jane would feel. It was more like a kiss from Sissy, if Sissy had any manners.

“Oh, Morgan.” She patted his hand. “I can remember feeling all switched up when I was younger.”

Her words frightened him.

“But your wife is a man now, so you can’t rightly be a woman who loves women.”

“Allie is still a woman, Jane.”

Jane let go of his hand and turned towards the bar. “Is she?”

“Yes.” He said it with the sound of someone who has dropped a bottle of shampoo in the shower.

She nodded and smiled again. “Perhaps for now.”

He didn’t know what to say.

Jane began to laugh. “Oh, honey. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Morgan suddenly felt like a woman. “It’s just, how can she be a man, but I’m not a woman?

Jane was matter-of-fact. “That’s up to you.”

“And what am I, if not either?”

“Absolutes, dear.”

Morgan tried to take a sip of his drink, but when he sucked the cocktail straw it wheezed and bubbled. He knew there must be a hole preventing him from creating pressure. He wondered if a straw would work in space, then he set his drink aside and ignored it.

*   *   *

At home that evening, Morgan waited for Allie on the couch in his nightgown. He had showered and done his best to fix her hair for her.

He went around the house watering the ferns on the mantle and the cactus in the windowsill. He missed his hair. He hadn’t meant to feel so nervous. Within, the butterflies had flown outside of his stomach and taken to fluttering throughout his body, pressing their wings just beneath the skin.

*   *   *

Allie knew that Morgan would be home waiting for her, but the tenth annual Fine Beverage Retailers conference was the next day and she and Jen had yet to finish loading up the samples and promotional materials. It had gotten dark by the time they began stacking the last baskets of ribbon-wrapped tea in Jen’s living room.

Allie was tired. She sat down on the edge of the coffee table.

Jen continued to bounce up and down the front porch steps with packages. Through the open door, Allie watched her skirt lift and fall with her movements. When she returned to the house, Jen shut the door behind her.

“We still have to take these last two baskets.” Allie pinched the bridge of her nose. She had sinus pressure.

“You can take them on your way out.”

Allie wanted to get home. She started to get up, but Jen stood in front of her. She put her hands on Allie’s shoulders and lowered her back into the chair. Jen sat on her lap, facing her, straddling her waist with her knees. Allie felt silly on the coffee table. A pile of magazines fell to the floor and they almost knocked over a cup of water. Jen wrapped her arms around Allie’s neck.

“No, Jen,” Allie said. She hadn’t realized how small her friend’s body had become until she found it upon her.

“Oh stop,” Jen said. “You’re just as vain as me.” She pressed her mouth against Allie’s.

Allie pulled her head back, but Jen followed with her lips. She tried to force her tongue into Allie’s mouth, but Allie pressed her lips tight and moved her head from side to side. Jen’s tongue ran over her cheek and left a trail.

“Stop.” Allie said again. Jen thought she knew everything about everyone. She thought, Jen does not know me.

Jen laughed. “Come on,” she yelled, “give it the play your noodle husband never would have.” She kissed Allie again.

This time, Allie didn’t move away. She let her friend kiss her. Then, she kissed her back. She moved her mouth hard, violent. She wanted to use her teeth. “This is what you want?” she asked. She hated the way Jen took anything she wanted. Allie felt heat rushing up her neck. She stood and let Jen topple backwards into the floor. Jen jumped up and brushed the seat of her skirt, then came at Allie again.

Allie shoved Jen back. She charged, then shoved her again. Jen hit the wall with a thud. Allie pressed against her, breathing. Jen pressed back. She opened her mouth to kiss Allie again, but Allie pressed her weight on Jen harder, smashing her into the wall.

Allie kissed Jen like a hammer, her mouth closed tight.

“Ow,” Jen said. “That hurts.”

Allie put her hands around Jen’s neck and held her against the wooden paneling. She squeezed.

Jen grabbed at Allie’s hands with her own. She made smothered sounds with her throat.

Allie’s hands were strong. She hated Jen. For a moment, she thought she might not let go. Then, she thought of Morgan. She thought of his long, soft hair. She thought of her hands, how tight they held Jen’s throat.

Allie kissed Jen once more, then released.

Jen sucked at the air and grabbed at her neck.

Allie took a step back. Her hands were trembling.

Jen stooped and took deep breaths. She looked at Allie.

Allie was afraid at what she had done.

But, Jen began to smile. “That’s what I’m talking about.” She laughed.

Allie’s whole body shook as she stared at her friend. Allie stared at her friend. She turned and walked out the front door.

Outside, the air was clean and invigorating. It touched Allie’s skin. She felt cramped by it, unsteady. She put her head in her hands and pulled at her hair. The trash bins sat full on every curb. They smelled of metal. She wanted to run away, or perhaps cry, but instead she took Jen’s dumpster and rolled it out into the street, turning it backwards so it would be easier to grab the handles when the collectors came by. She thought of Morgan lying naked on the bed in her body, his hair combed, his eyes closed. She would touch him gently. She would say, “Please, don’t be frightened.”

By Kari Shemwell

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