Episode #57: “You Inside Me” by Tori Curtis

July 4, 2018

You Inside Me

by Tori Curtis

 

It'll be fun, he'd said. Everyone's doing it. You don't have to be looking for romance, it's just a good way to meet people.

"I don't think it's about romance at all," Sabella said. She wove her flower crown into her braids so that the wire skeleton was hidden beneath strands of hair. "I think if you caught a congressman doing this, he'd have to resign."

"That's 'cause we've never had a vampire congressman," Dedrick said. He rearranged her so that her shoulders fell from their habitual place at her ears, her chin pointed up, and snapped photos of her. "Step forward a little—there, you look more like yourself in that light."

 

 

Hello! Welcome to GlitterShip episode 57 for May 21st, 2018. This is your host, Keffy, and I'm super excited to share this story with you.

GlitterShip is now part of the Audible afflilate program. What this means is that just by listening to GlitterShip, you are eligible to get a free audio book and 30 day trial at Audible to check out the service.

If you're looking for more queer science fiction to listen to, there's a full audio book available of the Lightspeed Magazine "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" special issue, featuring stories by a large number of queer authors, including  John Chu, Chaz Brenchley, Rose Lemberg, and many others.

To download a free audiobook today, go to http://www.audibletrial.com/GlitterShip and choose an excellent book to listen to, whether that’s "Queers Destroy Science Fiction" or something else entirely.

Today I have a story and a poem for you. The poem is "Dionysus in London" by Tristan Beiter.

Tristan Beiter is a student at Swarthmore College studying English Literature and Gender and Sexuality Studies. He loves reading poetry and speculative fiction, some of his favorite books being The Waste Land, HD’s Trilogy, Mark Doty’s Atlantis, Frances Hardinge’s Gullstruck Island, and Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. When not reading or writing, he can usually be found crafting absurdities with his boyfriend or yelling about literary theory.

 

Dionysus in London

by Tristan Beiter

 

The day exploded, you know.

Last night a woman
with big bouffant hair told
me, “Show me a story
where the daughter runs into a stop
sign and it literally turns into a white flower.”

I fail to describe
a total eclipse and the throne
of petrified wood sank
into the lakebed.

James made love to Buckingham
while I pulled the honeysuckle
to me, made a flower crown for
the leopards flanking me
while I watched red
and white invert themselves, white
petals pushing from the center of the sign
as the post wilted until all
that remained was a giant lotus
on the storm grate waiting
to rot or wash away.

I let it stay there while the Scottish
king hid behind the Scottish play
and walked behind me, one eye out
for the mark left when locked in.
You go witchy in there—or at least
you—or he, or I—learn to be afraid
of the big coats and brass
buttons, like the ones in every hall
closet; you never know if they will turn,
like yours, into bats and bugs and giant
tarantulas made from wire hangers.

The woman showed me
our reflections in the shop window
while one or the other
man in the palace polished
the silver for his lover’s table
and asked me who
I loved; I decided
on the cream
linen, since the wool
was too close to the pea coat
that hung

by your door.
I suppose that the cat
is under the car; that’s probably where it fled to
as we walked, knowing
we already found that
the ivy in your hair was artificial
as the bacchanal, or your
evasion, Sire, of the question
(and of the serpents who are well
worth the well
offered to them with the wet wax
on my crown). I

suppose the car is under the cat,
in which case it must be a very large
cat, or else a very small car.
I eat your teeth. I see brilliantine teeth floating
in her thick red lipstick. James
tears apart the rhododendron
chattering (about) his incisors
and remembering the flesh
and—nothing so exotic
as a Sphinx, maybe a dust
mote or lip-marks
left on the large leather chaise.
Teeth gleam from the shadows
where I wait, thyrsus
raised with the cone
almost touching the roof
of the forest, to drown

in a peacock
as it swallows (chimney
swifts?) the sun—or
was it son—or maybe it was
just a grape I fed it so
it would eat the spiders
crawling from the closet.
It struts across the palace green
like it owns the place, like
it will replace the hunting-
grounds with fields of straggling
mint that the king
would never ask for.

The woman teases
up her hair before the mirror, filling
the restroom with hairspray
and big laughs before walking back
into the restaurant, where we
wait to make ourselves
over—the way the throne did
when the wood crumbled under the
pressure of an untold story,
leaving nothing but crystals and dust.

We argued for an hour over
whether to mix leaves and
flowers, plants and gems,
before settling on four
crowns, one for each of us.

Her hair mostly covers hers.
The cats will love it though,
playing with teeth
that were knocked into your wine
in the barfight (why did you
order wine in a place
like that, Buck?) and you
got replaced with gold, like I
wear woven in my braids
as the sun sets on the daughter
that, unsurprisingly, none
of us have. But

if we did, she would turn yield
signs into dahlias and
that would be the sign
to move on with the leopards
and their flashing teeth and
brass eyes and listen.
To the walls and rivers,
to the sculpture that is far
whiter than me falling. And
to the peacock which has just
eaten another bug so you don’t have to
kill it. Get yourself a dresser
and cover it with white enamel
it’ll hold up, and no insects
live in dressers. Keep

the ivy and the pinecone
in a mother-of-pearl trinket box
with your plastic volumizing hair
inserts and jeweled combs.
And put a cat and dolphin
on it, to remember.

 

 

Next, our short story this episode is "You Inside Me" by Tori Curtis

Tori Curtis writes speculative fiction with a focus on LGBT and disability issues. She is the author of one novel, Eelgrass, and a handful of short stories. You can find her at toricurtiswrites.com and on Twitter at @tcurtfish, where she primarily tweets about how perfect her wife is.

CW: For descriptions of traumatic surgery.

 

 

 

You Inside Me

by Tori Curtis

 

It'll be fun, he'd said. Everyone's doing it. You don't have to be looking for romance, it's just a good way to meet people.

"I don't think it's about romance at all," Sabella said. She wove her flower crown into her braids so that the wire skeleton was hidden beneath strands of hair. "I think if you caught a congressman doing this, he'd have to resign."

"That's 'cause we've never had a vampire congressman," Dedrick said. He rearranged her so that her shoulders fell from their habitual place at her ears, her chin pointed up, and snapped photos of her. "Step forward a little—there, you look more like yourself in that light."

He took fifteen minutes to edit her photos ("they'll expect you to use a filter, so you might as well,") and pop the best ones on her profile.

Suckr: the premier dating app for vampires and their fanciers.

"It's like we're cats," she said.

"I heard you like cats," he agreed, and she sighed.

 

 

Hi, I'm Sabella. I've been a vampire since I was six years old, and I do not want to see or be seen by humans. I'm excited to meet men and women between the ages of eighteen and sixty-five.

"That's way too big of an age range," Dedrick said. "You want to be compatible with these people."

"Yeah, compatible. Like my tissue type."

"You don't want to end up flirting with a grandpa."

I'm excited to meet men and women between the ages of twenty and thirty-five.

I'm most proud of my master's degree.

You should message me if you're brave and crazy.

 

 

It took days, not to mention Dedrick’s exasperated return, before she went back on Suckr. She paced up the beautiful wood floors of her apartment, turning on heel at the sole window on the long end and the painted-over cast-iron radiator on the short. When she felt too sick to take care of herself, her mom came over and put Rumors on, wrapped her in scarves that were more pretty than functional, warmed some blood and gave it to her in a sippy cup. Sabella remembered nothing so much as the big Slurpees her mom had bought her, just this bright red, when she’d had strep the last year she was human.

She wore the necklace Dedrick had given her every day. It was a gold slice of pepperoni pizza with “best” emblazoned on the back (his matched, but read “friends,”), and she fondled it like a hangnail. She rubbed the bruises on her arms, where the skin had once been clear and she'd once thought herself pretty in a plain way, like Elinor Dashwood, as though she might be able to brush off the dirt.

She called her daysleeper friends, texted acquaintances, and slowly stopped responding to their messages as she realized how bored she was of presenting hope day after day.

 

 

2:19:08 bkissedrose: I'm so sorry.

2:19:21 bkissedrose: I feel like such a douche

2:19:24 sabellasay: ???

2:20:04 sabellasay: what r u talkin about

2:25:56 bkissedrose: u talked me down all those times I would've just died

2:26:08 sabellasay: it was rly nbd

2:26:27 bkissedrose: I've never been half as good as you are

2:26:48 bkissedrose: and now you're so sick

2:29:12 sabellasay: dude stop acting like i'm dying

2:29:45 sabellasay: I can't stand it

2:30:13 bkissedrose: god you're so brave

 

(sabellasay has become inactive)

 

 

"Everyone keeps calling me saying you stopped talking to them," Dedrick said when he made it back to her place, shoes up on the couch now that he'd finally wiped them of mud. "Should I feel lucky you let me in?"

"I'm tired," she said. "It's supposed to be a symptom. I like this one, I think she has potential."

He took her phone and considered it with the weight of a father researching a car seat. "A perfect date: I take you for a ride around the lake on my bike, then we stop home for an evening snack."

"She means her motorcycle," Sabella clarified.

He rolled his eyes and continued reading. "My worst fear: commitment."

"At least she's honest."

"That's not really a good thing. You're not looking for someone to skip out halfway through the movie."

"No, I'm looking for someone who's not going to be heartbroken when I die anyway."

Dedrick sighed, all the air going out of his chest as it might escape from dough kneaded too firmly, and held her close to him. "You're stupid," he told her, "but so sweet."

"I think I'm going to send her a nip."

 

 

The girl was named Ash but she spelled it A-I-S-L-I-N-G, and she seemed pleased that Sabella knew enough not to ask lots of stupid questions. They met in a park by the lakeside, far enough from the playground that none of the parents would notice the fanged flirtation going on below.

If Aisling had been a boy, she would have been a teen heartthrob. She wore her hair long where it was slicked back and short (touchable, but hard to grab in a fight) everywhere else. She wore a leather jacket that spoke of a once-in-a-lifetime thrift store find, and over the warmth of her blood and her breath she smelled like bag balm. Sabella wanted to hide in her arms from a fire. She wanted to watch her drown trying to save her.

Aisling parked her motorcycle and stowed her helmet before coming over to say hi—gentlemanly, Sabella thought, to give her a chance to prepare herself.

“What kind of scoundrel left you to wait all alone?” Aisling asked, with the sort of effortlessly cool smile that might have broken a lesser woman’s heart.

“I don’t know,” Sabella said, “but I’m glad you’re here now.”

Aisling stepped just inside her personal space and frowned. “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be rude,” she said, “but are you—"

“I’m trans, yes,” Sabella interrupted, and smiled so wide she could feel the tension at her temples. Like doing sit-ups the wrong way for years, having this conversation so many times hadn’t made it comfortable, only routine. “We don’t need to be awkward about it.”

“Okay,” Aisling agreed, and sat on the bench, helping Sabella down with a hand on her elbow. “I meant that you seem sick.”

She looked uneasy, and Sabella sensed that she had never been human. Vampires didn’t get sick—she had probably never had more than a headache, and that only from hunger.

“Yes,” Sabella said. “I am sick. I’m not actually—I mentioned this on my profile—I’m not actually looking for love.”

“I hope you won’t be too disappointed when it finds you,” Aisling said, and Sabella blushed, reoriented herself with a force like setting a bone, like if she tried hard enough to move in one direction she’d stop feeling like a spinning top.

“I’m looking for a donor,” she said.

“Yeah, all right,” Aisling said. She threw her arm over the back of the bench so that Sabella felt folded into her embrace. “I’m always willing to help a pretty girl out.”

“I don’t just mean your blood,” she said, and felt herself dizzy.

 

 

It was easier for Sabella to convince someone to do something than it was for her to ask for it. Her therapist had told her that, and even said it was common, but he hadn’t said how to fix it. “Please, may I have your liver” was too much to ask, and “Please, I don’t want to die” was a poor argument.

“So, you would take my liver—"

“It would actually only be part of your liver,” Sabella said, stopping to catch her breath. She hadn’t been able to go hiking since she’d gotten so sick—she needed company, and easy trails, and her friends either didn’t want to go or, like her mom, thought it was depressing to watch her climb a hill and have to stop to spit up bile.

“So we would each have half my liver, in the end.”

Sabella shrugged and looked into the dark underbrush. If she couldn’t be ethical about this, she wouldn’t deserve a liver. She wouldn’t try to convince Aisling until she understood the facts. “In humans, livers will regenerate once you cut them in half and transplant them. Like how kids think if you cut an earthworm in half, you get two. Or like bulbs. Ideally, it would go like that.”

“And if it didn’t go ideally?”

(“Turn me,” Dedrick said one day, impulsively, when she’d been up all night with a nosebleed that wouldn’t stop, holding her in his lap with his shirt growing polka-dotted. “I’ll be a vampire in a few days, we can have the surgery—you’ll be cured in a week.”)

“If it doesn’t go ideally,” Sabella said, “one or both of us dies. If it goes poorly, I don’t even know what happens.”

She stepped off the tree and set her next target, a curve in the trail where a tree had fallen and the light shone down on the path. Normally these days she didn’t wear shoes but flip-flops, but this was a date, and she’d pulled her old rainbow chucks out of the closet. Aisling walked with her silently, keeping pace, and put an arm around her waist.

Sabella looked up and down the trail. Green Lake was normally populated enough that people kept to their own business, and these days she felt pretty safe going about, even with a girl. But she checked anyway before she leaned into Ais’s strength, letting her guide them so that she could use all her energy to keep moving.

“But if it doesn’t happen at all, you die no matter what?”

Sabella took a breath. “If you don’t want to, I look for someone else.”

 

 

Her mom was waiting for her when Sabella got home the next morning.

Sabella’s mother was naturally blonde, tough when she needed to be, the sort of woman who could get into hours-long conversations with state fair tchotchke vendors. She’d gotten Sabella through high school and into college through a careful application of stamping and yelling. When Sabella had started calling herself Ravynn, she’d brought a stack of baby name books home and said, “All right, let’s find you something you can put on a resume.”

“Mom,” she said, but smiling, “I gave you a key in case I couldn’t get out of bed, not so you could check if I spent the night with a date.”

“How’d it go? Was this the girl Dedrick helped you find?”

“Aisling, yeah,” Sabella said. She sat on the recliner, a mountain of accent pillows cushioning her tender body. “It was good. I like her a lot.”

“Did she decide to get the surgery?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t ask her to choose.”

“Then what did you two do all night?”

Sabella frowned. “I like her a lot. We had a good time.”

Her mom stood and put the kettle on, and Sabella couldn’t help thinking what an inconvenience she was, that her mother couldn’t fret over her by making toast and a cup of tea. “Christ, what decent person would want to do that with you?”

“We have chemistry! She’s very charming!”

She examined Sabella with the dissatisfied air of an artist. “You’re a mess, honey. You’re so orange you could be a jack-o-lantern, and swollen all over. You look like you barely survived a dogfight. I don’t even see my daughter when I look at you anymore.”

Sabella tried to pull herself together, to look more dignified, but instead she slouched further into the recliner and crossed her arms over her chest. “Maybe she thinks I’m funny, or smart.”

“Maybe she’s taking advantage. Anyone who really cared about you wouldn’t be turned on, they’d be worried about your health.”

Sabella remembered the look on Aisling’s face when she’d first come close enough to smell her, and shuddered. “I’m not going to ask her to cut out part of her body for me without thinking about it first,” she said.

“Without giving her something in return?" her mom asked. "It's less than two pounds."

“But it’s still her choice,” Sabella said.

“I’m starting to wonder if you even want to live,” her mom said, and left.

Sabella found the energy to go turn off the stovetop before she fell asleep. (Her mother had raised her responsible.)

 

 

12:48:51 bkissedrose: what happens to a dream bestowed

12:49:03 bkissedrose: upon a girl too weak to fight for it?

12:53:15 sabellasay: haha you can’t sleep either?

12:53:38 sabellasay: babe idk

12:55:43 sabellasay: is it better to have loved and lost

12:56:29 sabellasay: than to die a virgin?

1:00:18 bkissedrose: I guess I don’t know

1:01:24 bkissedrose: maybe it depends if they're good

 

 

“It’s nice here,” Aisling confessed the third time they visited the lake. Sabella and her mom weren’t talking, but she couldn’t imagine it would last more than a few days longer, so she wasn’t worried. “I’d never even heard of it.”

“I grew up around here,” Sabella said, “and I used to take my students a few times a year."

“You teach?”

“I used to teach,” she said, and stepped off the trail—the shores were made up of a gritty white sand like broken shells—to watch the sinking sun glint off the water. “Seventh grade science.”

Aisling laughed. “That sounds like a nightmare.”

“I like that they’re old enough you can do real projects with them, but before it breaks off into—you know, are we doing geology or biology or physics. When you’re in seventh grade, everything is science.” She smiled and closed her eyes so that she could feel the wind and the sand under her shoes. She could hear birds settling and starting to wake, but she couldn’t place them. “They’ve got a long-term sub now. Theoretically, if I manage to not die, I get my job back.”

Aisling came up behind her and put her arms around her. Sabella knew she hadn’t really been weaving—she knew her limits well enough now, she hoped—but she felt steadier that way. “You don’t sound convinced.”

“I don’t think they expect to have to follow through,” Sabella admitted. “Sometimes I think I’m the only one who ever thinks I’m going to survive this. My mom’s so scared all the time, I know she doesn’t.”

Aisling held her not tight but close, like being tucked into a bright clean comforter on a cool summer afternoon. “Can I ask you a personal question?” she said, her face up against Sabella’s neck so that every part of Sabella wanted her to bite.

“Maybe,” she said, then thought better of it. “Yes.”

“How’d you get sick? I didn’t think we could catch things like that. Or was it while you were human?”

“Um, no, but I’m not contagious, just nasty.” Aisling laughed, and she continued, encouraged. “Mom would, you know, once I came out I could do pretty much whatever I wanted, but she wouldn’t let me get any kind of reconstructive surgery until I was eighteen. She thought it was creepy, some doc getting his hands all over her teenage kid.”

“Probably fair.”

“So I’m eighteen, and she says okay, you’re right, you got good grades in school and you’re going to college like I asked, I'll pay for whatever surgery you want. And you have to imagine, I just scheduled my freshman orientation, I have priorities."

"Which are?"

"Getting laid, mostly."

“Yeah, I remember that.”

“So I’m eighteen and hardly ever been kissed, I’m not worried about the details. I don’t let my mom come with me, it doesn’t even occur to me to see a doctor who’s worked with vampires before, I just want to look like Audrey Hepburn's voluptuous sister.”

“Oh no,” Ash said. It hung there for a moment, the dread and Sabella’s not being able to regret that she’d been so stupid. “It must have come up.”

“Sure. He said he was pretty sure it would be possible to do the surgery on a vampire, he knew other surgeries had been done. I was just so excited he didn’t say no.”

Ash held her tight then, like she might be dragged away otherwise, and Sabella knew that it had nothing to do with her in particular, that it was only the protective instinct of one person watching another live out her most plausible nightmare. “What did he do to you?”

“It wasn’t his fault,” she said, and then—grimacing, she knew her mother would have been so angry with her—“at least, he didn’t mean anything by it. He never read anything about how to adapt the procedure to meet my needs.” She sounded so clinical, like she’d imbibed so many doctors’ explanations of what had happened that she was drunk on it. “But neither did I. We both found out you can’t give vampires a blood transfusion.”

"Why would you need to?"

She shrugged. "You don't, usually, in plastic surgery."

"No," Aisling interrupted, "I mean, why wouldn't you drink it?"

Sabella tried to remember, or tried not to be able to, and tucked her cold hands into her pockets. "You're human, I guess. Anyway, I puked all over him and the incision sites, had to be hospitalized. My doctor says I'm lucky I'm such a good healer, or I'd need new boobs and a new liver."

They were both quiet, and Sabella thought, this is it. You either decide it's too much or you kiss me again.

She thought, I miss getting stoned with friends and telling shitty surgery stories and listening to them laugh. I hate that when I meet girls their getting-to-know-you involves their Youtube make-up tutorials and mine involves "and then, after they took the catheter out..."

"Did you sue for malpractice, at least?" Ash asked, and Sabella couldn't tell without looking if her tone was teasing or wistful.

"My mom did, yeah. When they still wanted her to pay for the damn surgery."

 

 

Aisling pulled up to the front of Sabella's building and stopped just in front of her driveway. She kicked her bike into park and stepped onto the sidewalk, helping Sabella off and over the curbside puddle. Sabella couldn't find words for what she was thinking, she was so afraid that her feelings would shatter as they crystallized. She wanted Ais to brush her hair back from her face and comb out the knots with her fingers. She wanted Ais to stop by to shovel the drive when there was lake effect snow. She wanted to find 'how to minimize jaundice' in the search history of Aisling's phone.

“You’re beautiful in the sunlight,” Ais said, breaking her thoughts, maybe on purpose. “Like you were made to be outside.”

Sabella ducked her head and leaned up against her. The date was supposed to be over, go inside and let this poor woman get on with her life, but she didn’t want to leave. “It’s nice to have someone to go with me,” she said. “Especially with a frost in the air. Sometimes people act like I’m so fragile.”

“Ridiculous. You’re a vampire.”

Her ears were cold, and she pressed them against Aisling’s jawbone. She wondered what the people driving past thought when they saw them. She thought that maybe the only thing better than surviving would be to die a tragic death, loved and loyally attended. “I was born human.”

“Even God makes mistakes.”

Sabella smiled. “Is that what I am? A mistake?”

“Nah,” she said. “Just a happy accident.”

Sabella laughed, thought you're such a stoner and I feel so safe when you look at me like that.

"I'll do it," Ais said.  "What do I have to do to set up the surgery?"

Sabella hugged her tight, hid against her and counted the seconds—one, two, three, four, five—while Ais didn't change her mind and Sabella wondered if she would.

 

 

"I have to stress how potentially dangerous this is," Dr. Young said. "I can't guarantee that it will work, that either of you will survive the procedure or the recovery, or that you won't ultimately regret it."

Aisling was holding it together remarkably well, Sabella thought, but she still felt like she could catch her avoiding eye contact. Sabella had taken the seat in the doctor's office between her mother and girlfriend, and felt uncomfortable and strange no matter which of their hands she held.

"Um," Ais said, and Sabella could feel her mother's judgment at her incoherence, "you said you wouldn't be able to do anything for the pain?"

To her credit, the doctor didn't fidget or look away. Sabella, having been on the verge of death long enough to become something of a content expert, believed that it was important to have a doctor who was upfront about how terrible her life was. "I wouldn't describe it as 'nothing,' exactly," she said. "There aren't any anesthetics known to work on vampires, but we'll make you as comfortable as possible. You can feed immediately before and as soon as you're done, and that will probably help snow you over."

"Being a little blood high," Ais clarified. "While you cut out my liver."

"Yes."

Sabella wanted to apologize. She couldn't find the words.

Aisling said, "Well, while we're trying to make me comfortable, can I smoke up, too?"

Dr. Young laughed. It wasn't cruel, but it wasn't promising, either. "That's not a terrible idea," she said, "but marijuana increases bleeding, and there are so many unknown variables here that I'd like to stick to best practices if we can."

"I can just—" Sabella said, and choked. She wasn't sure when she'd started crying. "Find someone else. Dedrick will do it, I know."

Aisling considered this. The room was quiet, soft echoes on the peeling tile floor. Sabella's mother put an arm around her, and she felt tiny, but in the way that made her feel ashamed and not protected. Aisling said, "Why are you asking me? Is there something you know that I don't?"

Dr. Young shook her head. "I promise we're not misrepresenting the procedure," she said. "And theoretically, it might be possible with any vampire. But there aren't a lot of organ transplants in the literature—harvesting, sure, but not living transplants—and I want to get it right the first time. If we have a choice, I told Sabella I'd rather use a liver from a donor who was born a vampire. I think it'll increase our chance of success."

"A baby'd be too weak," Aisling agreed. Her voice was going hard and theoretical. "Well, tell me something encouraging."

"One of the first things we'll do is to cut through almost all of your abdominal nerves, so that will help. And there's a possibility that the experience will be so intense that you don't remember it clearly, or at all."

Sabella's mother took a shaky breath, and Sabella wished, hating herself for it, that she hadn't come.

Ais said, "Painful. You mean, the experience will be so painful."

"If you choose to go forward with it," Dr. Young said, "we'll do everything we can to mitigate that."

 

 

Sabella had expected that Aisling would want space and patience while she decided not to die a horrible, painful death to save her. It was hard to tell how instead they ended up in her bed with the lights out, their legs wound together and their faces swollen with sleep. Sabella was shaking, and couldn’t have said why. Ais grabbed her by her seat and pulled her up close.

“You said you couldn’t get me sick?” she asked.

“No,” Sabella agreed. “Although my blood is probably pretty toxic.”

Ais kissed her, the smell of car exhaust still stuck in her hair. “What a metaphor,” she murmured, and lifted her chin. “You look exhausted.”

Sabella thought, Are you saying what I think you’re saying? and, That’s a terrible idea, and said, “God, I want to taste you.”

“Well, baby,” Ais said, and her hands were on Sabella so she curled her lips and blew her hair out of her eyes, “that’s what I’m here for.”

Sabella had been human once, and she remembered what food was like. The standard lie, that drinking blood was like eating a well-cooked steak, was wrong but close enough to staunch the flow of an interrogation. (She’d had friends and exes, turned as adults, who said it was like a good stout on tap, hefty and refreshing, but she thought they might just be trying to scandalize her.)

Ais could have been a stalk of rhubarb or August raspberries. She moved under Sabella and held her so that their knees pressed together. She could have been the thrill of catching a fat thorny toad in among the lettuce at dusk, or a paper wasp in a butterfly net. She felt like getting tossed in the lake in January; she tasted like being wrapped in fleece and gently dried before the fire; her scent was what Sabella remembered of collapsing, limbs aquiver, on the exposed bedrock of a mountaintop, nothing but crushed pine and the warmth of a moss-bed.

She woke on top of Ais, licking her wounds lazily—she wanted more, but she was too tired to do anything about it.

“That’s better,” Ais whispered, and if she was disappointed that this wasn’t turning into a frenzy, she didn’t show it. They were quiet for long enough that the haze started to fade, and then Aisling said, “I couldn’t ask in front of your mother, but was it like that with your surgery? They couldn’t do anything for the pain?”

Sabella shifted uncomfortably, rolled over next to Ais. “I was conscious, yes.”

“Do you remember it?”

It was a hard question. She wanted to say it wasn’t her place to ask. She tried to remember, and got caught up in the layers of exhaustion, the spaces between the body she’d had, the body she’d wanted, and what they had been doing to her. “Sounds and sensations and thoughts, mostly,” she said.

Ais choked, and said, “So, everything,” and Sabella realized—she didn’t know how she hadn’t—how scared she must be.

“No, it’s blurry,” she said instead. “I remember, um, the tugging at my chest. I kept thinking there was no way my skin wasn’t just going to split open. And the scraping sounds. They’ve got all these tools, and they’re touching you on the inside and the outside at the same time, and that’s very unsettling. And this man, I think he was the PA, standing over me saying, ‘You’ve got to calm down, honey.’”

“Were you completely freaking out?” Ais asked.

Sabella shook her head. Her throat hurt. “No. I mean—I cried a little. Not as much as you’d think. They said if I wasn’t careful, you know, with swallowing at the right times and breathing steady, they might mess up reshaping my larynx and I could lose my voice.”

Ais swore, and Sabella wondered if she would feel angry. (Sometimes she would scream and cry, say, can you imagine doing that to an eighteen-year-old?) Right now she was just tired. “How did you manage?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think just, it was worth more to me to have it done than anything else. So I didn’t ever tell them to stop.”

 

 

“Please don’t go around telling people I think this is an acceptable surgical set-up,” Dr. Young said, looking around the exam room.

It reminded Sabella of a public hearing, the way the stakeholders sat at opposing angles and frowned at each other. Dr. Young sat next to Dr. Park, who would be the second doctor performing the procedure. Sabella had never met Dr. Park before, and her appearance—young, mostly—didn’t inspire confidence. Sabella sat next to her mother, who held her hand and a clipboard full of potential complications. Ais crossed her fingers in her lap, sat with a nervous child’s version of polite interest. Time seemed not to blur, but to stutter, everything happening whenever.

“Dr. Park,” Sabella’s mother said, “do you have any experience operating on vampires?”

Dr. Park grinned and her whole mouth seemed to open up in her face, her gums pale pink as a Jolly Rancher and her left fang chipped. “Usually trauma or obstetrics,” she admitted. “Although this is nearly the same thing.”

“I’m serious,” Sabella’s mom said, and Sabella interrupted.

“I like her,” she said. And then—it wasn’t really a question except in the sense that there was no way anyone could be sure—“You’re not going to realize halfway through the surgery that it’s too much for you?”

Dr. Park laughed. “I turned my husband when we were both eighteen,” she said as testament to her cruelty.

Sabella’s mom jumped. “Jesus Christ, why?”

She shrugged, languid. Ais and Dr. Young were completely calm; Ais might have had no frame of reference for what it was like to watch someone turn, and Dr. Young had probably heard this story before. “His parents didn’t like that he was dating a vampire. You’ll do crazy things for love.”

Sabella could see her mother blanch even as she steadied. It wasn’t unheard of for a vampire to turn their spouse—less common now that it was easier to live as a vampire, and humans were able to date freely but not really commit. But she could remember being turned, young as she had been: the gnawing ache, the hallucinations, the thirst that had only sometimes eclipsed the pain. It was still the worst thing that she’d ever experienced, and she was sure her mother couldn’t understand why anyone would choose to do it to someone they loved.

“Good,” she said. “You won’t turn back if we scream.”

Dr. Young frowned. “I want you to know you have a choice,” she said. She was speaking to Ais; Sabella had a choice, too, but it was only between one death and another. “There will be a point when you can’t change your mind, but by then it’ll be almost over.”

Ais swore. It made Dr. Park smile and Sabella’s mom frown. Sabella wondered if she was in love with her, or if it was impossible to be in love with someone who was growing a body for them to share. “Don’t say that,” Ais said. “I don’t want to have that choice.”

 

 

The morning of the surgery, Aisling gave Sabella a rosary to wear with her pizza necklace, and when they kicked Sabella’s mom out to the waiting room, she kissed them both as she went. “I like your mom,” Ais said shyly. They lay in cots beside each other, just close enough that they could reach out and hold hands across the gap. “I bet she’d get along with mine.”

Sabella laughed, her eyes stinging, threw herself across the space between them and kissed each of Ais’s knuckles while Ais said, “Aw, c’mon, save it ‘til we get home.”

“Isn’t that a lot of commitment for you?” Sabella asked.

“Yeah, well,” Ais said, caught, and gave her a cheesy smile. “You’re already taking my liver, at least my heart won’t hurt so much.”

They drank themselves to gorging while nurses wrapped and padded them in warm blankets. Ais was first, for whatever measure of mercy that was, and while they were wheeled down the dizzying white hallway, she grinned at Sabella, wild, some stranger’s blood staining her throat to her nose. “You’re a real looker,” she said, and Sabella laughed over her tears.

“Thank you,” Sabella said. “I mean, really, for everything.”

Ais winked at her; Sabella wanted to run away from all of this and drink her in until they died. “It’s all in a day’s work, ma’am,” she said.

It wasn’t, it couldn’t have been, and Sabella loved her for pretending. Ais hissed, she cried, she asked intervention of every saint learned in K-12 at a Catholic school. A horrible gelatinous noise came as Dr. Young’s gloves touched her innards, and Ais moaned and Sabella said, “You have to stop, this is awful,” and the woman assigned to supervise her held her down and said hush, honey, you need to be quiet. And the doctors’ voices, neither gentle nor unkind: We’re almost done now, Aisling, you’re being so brave. And: It’s a pity she’s too strong to pass out.

Sabella went easier, hands she couldn’t see wiping her down and slicing her open while Dr. Park pulled Ais’s insides back together. She’d been scared for so long that the pain didn’t frighten her; she kept asking “Is she okay? What’s happening?” until the woman at her head brushed back her hair and said shh, she’s in the recovery room, you can worry about yourself now.

It felt right, fixing her missteps with pieces of Ais, and when Dr. Young said, “There we go, just another minute and you can go take care of her yourself,” Sabella thought about meromictic lakes, about stepping into a body so deep its past never touched its present.

END

 

 

"Dionysus in London" is copyright Tristan Beiter 2018.

"You Inside Me" is copyright Tori Curtis 2018.

This recording is a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license which means you can share it with anyone you’d like, but please don’t change or sell it. Our theme is “Aurora Borealis” by Bird Creek, available through the Google Audio Library.

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Thanks for listening, and we'll be back soon with a reprint of "The City of Kites and Crows" by Megan Arkenberg.

 

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