I’ve been in denial about her metamorphosis for weeks, but this morning I can no longer ignore the fact that my girlfriend, Camila, is slowly turning into me. Now, what to do about it?
First, a Bumble date. She’d looked stunning. We’d talked all night, closed the bar down. I remember wishing with everything I had that she wouldn’t turn out like all the rest.
Two weeks later, we’d become official and she’d begun sacrificing her own needs to meet mine.
One evening I’d come home from a business trip to find that she’d skipped work all week to re-design my apartment into my fantasy home, complete with a vintage 16mm camera and projector in my living room. The Hound of the Baskervilles (the 1939 version, which is the only version worth watching) was playing on the pull-down screen across from the projector.
“You really didn’t have to do this,” I’d said, gesturing all around the room.
“I know,” she’d smiled. “I wanted to do something nice for you, though. I know you’ve been stressed out lately, with your boss being an acehole.”
“A what?” I thought I’d misheard her.
“Yeah, you know. An acehole,” she’d laughed, like Who doesn’t know what that is?
“Ah, the infamous acehole,” I’d said, mock-seriously. “The most terrifying of all holes.”
That was back when Camila didn’t swear. She’d used words like, “funk,” “shizz,” and “hale,” in place of their profane counterparts. Now that she curses, I find that I miss her goofy words. It scares me to think that maybe I can only appreciate things in retrospect.
“Anyway, you acehole, I also ordered a case of Sonoran White Chocolate for you. It’s in the fridge. I know you’re always complaining about how no one sells it around here so I ordered it from a store in Phoenix.”
“What did I do to deserve this?” I’d asked, incredulously. It wasn’t necessarily a rhetorical question. I felt wildly unworthy of such thoughtful gestures.
“There’s also a jar of Blueberry Kush under your pillow.”
“Where the fuck were you when I was losing my baby teeth?” I’d smiled.
Camila had shrugged, smirking. I pulled her into my arms and kissed her.
“I love you,” I’d blurted out. It was the first time either one of us had said those treacherous words. I remember thinking that her big brown eyes looked like black holes I wanted to fall into.
“I love you, too,” she’d said, standing on her tiptoes to kiss me. And that was that. We’d said it. It was out in the universe. We couldn’t take it back.
I’d wanted to ask Camila how’d she afforded to curate all the necessities for my dream world, how she hadn’t been fired for skipping a week of work, but frankly, I didn’t care. I was stoked that she not only accepted me for who I am, but actually encouraged my habits and interests. She did it to make me happy, and I was. Until I wasn’t.
Shortly after we’d dropped the L bomb, she’d begun claiming my favorite director, Terrence Malick, as her own. There’d been an article about him in the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t have access to the website, so I asked Camila to work her magic. She sent an email to her boss, who she knew subscribed to the newspaper, begging him for his login information. I know this because she’d blind copied me on the email.
“Arnold, do you mind giving me access to the Wall Street Journal? There’s a recent article about my favorite director that I’d love to read.”
Her favorite director. The fucking audacity. On the one hand, it seemed such a tiny indiscretion, but it made my blood boil. Why couldn’t she have just said that her boyfriend was a huge Malick fan? The only exposure she’d had to his films was kissing my neck and rubbing my thigh on the couch while I furiously scribbled notes on camera angles, depth of field, and soft focus. But oh well, I loved her, didn’t I? And that’s what was important.
After stealing my interests, she began adopting my behaviors. I know this is going to sound a little weird, but I love bothering animals. Pets, not wild animals. I consider myself to be the resident pet-botherer of any household I’m in. I don’t actually want the dog or cat or iguana to be irritated with me—I just want their undivided attention. Typically I’ll do something like pet them aggressively or stick my toes in their noses when they either fall asleep or begin attending to anything that isn’t me. Don’t ask me why I find such joy in this, but I do. And to some extent I think the pets do too. I say this because they moan and hiss and pretend to be infuriated, but when I get up to refill my drink or go to the bathroom they often follow me or at the very least, look at me with longing eyes.
After our third date, I’d invited Camila to a party at my ex-boyfriend’s house. His name is Warren and he still can’t decide if he hates me or wants us to be friends, which is inconsequential—his house is baller and my best friend, Sonya, was going to be there. She has auburn dreads and does heroin whenever she’s menstruating. She hates her father and has a tattoo of him on her left bicep—I think some sort of power play on her part—and she believes that we are all living in a simulation created by a species so advanced we can’t even fathom their intelligence. We know everything there is to know about each other. I love that she knows exactly who she is. Whether anyone’s watching or not. I don’t know what I’d do without her. Sonya is like my fortune teller, therapist, and financial advisor rolled into one.
Warren has a wiener dog named Brutus, with whom I’ve always been pretty chummy. Upon arriving to the party, I’d swept Brutus into my arms, holding him on his back like a baby even though I know it’s not great for his spine, but he looked so adorable in that position, I could never help myself.
Throughout the evening I’d continued to terrorize Brutus, grabbing his snout, playing with his floppy ears, and chasing him into different rooms and yelling things like, “Why’d you have to kill Caesar?” and “From the statues I’ve seen, you were kinda hot.” By the end of the night, Camila had usurped my throne as pet-botherer and was listing all of the foods Brutus resembles while trying to wrestle him into a Portland Trail Blazers t-shirt. Again, it was such a minor thing in the grand scheme of life that I hadn’t spoken up. Not to Camila anyway. Naturally I pulled Sonya aside and complained about how that was my thing—not Camila’s. Like a third-grader who thinks he invented dodgeball or freeze tag.
“You’re being ridiculous. She’s just trying to get close to you. It’s actually kind of cute,” Sonya had said, blowing me an air kiss.
“I guess you’re right. Maybe I’m overreacting.”
And it went that way for a while. A little something here, a little something there. A too-familiar facial expression, an uncomfortably-similar gesture, an uneasy feeling that my life was about to run away from me. Yet, I was powerless to stop it.
Now I’ve forgotten who she was when we met. She’d been a vegetarian, hadn’t she? Hadn’t she? She’d volunteered at a non-profit, maybe? Something to do with kids. I think she was pretty damn good at the piano, or had it been the guitar? She has three sisters, no, two brothers and one sister, or is she an only child? Didn’t she love Sauvignon Blanc, or was she more of a rosé girl? Fuck, I don’t know anymore. I think myself dizzy sometimes trying to recall the former Camila.
It’s like that version of her had never existed to begin with. At least not without me. I never wanted this, I swear.
I wake to the sound of her light, rhythmic snoring. I’d been dreaming of a Dalmatian puppy rolling around in a yogurt-filled baby pool. It is likely that she’s having the exact same dream, which I resent—there is hardly anything left that is solely mine. I roll over and examine her through crusted-over eyes. She looks like a burrito wrapped tightly in two blankets, which is conveniently the only position that I can fall asleep in. When she first started sleeping over I’d had to make a late-night trip to Walmart to buy more LaCrosse goose down blankets so she’d stop ripping the covers from me in the middle of the night, dismantling my burrito and leaving me to lie awake for hours.
Camila grunts, then rolls onto her side, facing me, her eyes still closed. The holes in her ears that had held dangling turquoise earrings only a week ago are now closed up. Having had my ear pierced during my self-proclaimed cool era in college, I know how these things work. I could probably still get an earring halfway through my ear, if I wanted.
I run my hand through her mahogany hair, which is messier and shorter than I remember, and I notice several blonde streaks that hadn’t been there the night before. The exact same shade as my unkempt mop. I suppose she could have had a hair appointment I hadn’t known about. Sure, let’s be reasonable here. Let’s list all the rational explanations before we jump to supernatural conclusions.
She took a shower with Sunny D.
Some bees made honey on her head.
She is really Tonks from Harry Potter, and wanted to try out a new look.
An alien abducted her during the night and demanded she allow the alien to practice hair-styling techniques.
Okay, maybe not quite all rational conclusions, but I do think an alien abduction or secret witch identity is far more reasonable than her DNA suddenly replicating mine.
I can’t ignore it anymore. Her once soft, round face has hardened, become more square and prominent like mine. Like someone had used a chisel to sharpen her jaw overnight. Her nose appears to have changed as well. It has elongated and narrowed, become more Nordic, more opportune for skiing. And her complexion—I swear that her skin is lighter than it was a few months ago. Give her a few more weeks and she’ll fit right in at one of our Koskinen family reunions, her pale skin lathered in a thick layer of Coppertone 50 SPF sunscreen.
My heart is quivering in my chest, like a kitten brought inside from the freezing rain.
There’s got to be a logical explanation for this. She could have been going to a tanning bed when we first met. Perhaps she’d recently gone on vacation—I’m thinking Maui or Cabo. I could chalk her increasing level of pallor up to the lack of sunlight in Portland. Everyone gets a little ghostly (and seasonally depressed) here—maybe it’s the colors she’s wearing. Dark shades can really wash a person’s face out. That’s more or less what Sonya says whenever I wear my black Jimi Hendrix t-shirt, except she phrases it, “You look like a fucking ghost, you twat.”
I don’t know what my next move is, but I can’t ignore Camila’s metamorphosis any longer. Either I’m trapped in one of those straight-to-film sci-fi movies or I need to be checked into a mental hospital. Do I break up with her? Turn her over to the government? Hold a séance for the parts of Camila that have died? It’s not like I started dating her for her pie-shaped face or her melanin. But any way you slice it, this is creepy. Maybe she’s one of Frankenstein’s science experiments gone terribly wrong, and thus was released into the wild, only to stumble into Norm’s, the dive bar down the street, where she would promptly march up to me and ask me what I like least about myself—a question that had caught me off guard.
“Hi, you little monster,” I whisper, brushing her hair away from her face. Joking about it makes it more bearable.
The problem is, in spite of all the twinning going on, I find her wildly appealing. Does this make me a narcissist? I don’t know which is more disconcerting: her transformation or my pathological self-love.
Camila slowly opens her eyes. For the first time I realize that the room smells like sex. Last night when we fucked with just the salt lamp on, she’d looked enough like me that it had felt like I was masturbating in the mirror, only way better. When I removed her shirt, I felt around on her chest for a while, confused. I thought maybe I’d drank too much and had stumbled to an ex-boyfriend’s house or something. Nothing was filling out her Victoria’s Secret black lace bra. Her boobs had shrunken into muscular pecs that resembled mine. Don’t get me wrong, I love pecs—I just wasn’t expecting to find them on her.
“Morning, baby,” Camila whispers, her voice raspy from sleep, and, well, from becoming a man.
“Hey, you,” I say. No matter how frustrated and spooked I am, I can’t make myself be anything but sweet to her. It would be like breaking my own nose. Plus, she’s got a good heart, and I am in love with her, right?
She cuddles up to me, burying her face in my chest, and I wrap my arms around her shoulders.
“You know what my first thought was when I woke up and saw you?” she asks.
“Just how I feel so close to you. You make me feel safe, like you’re my lover and my brother.”
I can feel her smiling against my chest. I don’t have it in me to break her heart. She means well, she really does.
“Huh,” I say, non-committal.
“Oh, you know what I mean. Not in like a creepy, tiptoe down to your bedroom, careful not to wake Mom and Dad way. Although, we could role-play that, if you’re down,” Camila laughs, and I laugh too, in spite of myself. It’s a joke I would make.
“What I’m trying to say is that I think what we have is special. I never met any men like you back in Venezuela. They were all so closed-off, so uncomfortable with their sexuality. I like how fluid you are.”
I nod, staring at the cracks in the ceiling for a few moments.
“Camila, would you mind, uh, going to look in the mirror real quick?” I ask, trying to sound casual. Nothing is as chivalrous as insisting your girlfriend examine herself the moment she wakes up.
“Why? Do I have a booger? Is there something in my teeth?”
She covers her mouth with her palm. I grab her hand and gently remove it.
“No, nothing like that. Would you please just go look?”
“Okay, weirdo,” she says, giving me a quick kiss, then jumping out of bed to run to the bathroom.
I never thought time could creep so slowly as when she’s in the bathroom, allegedly scrutinizing her reflection. I try to prepare for every possible outcome. She hasn’t screamed yet, which means she’s not surprised or terrified. Maybe she’s been noticing the changes too and didn’t know how to bring it up. That would be understandable. After all, it’s not like asking your partner if he or she or they would like to go to a Kid Rock concert with you—as painful as that experience sounds. She may return crying, so I’ll hold her and comfort her and tell her that I love her no matter what. She may be flustered or confused, not willing to believe the unbelievable. I don’t know what I’ll do then. Perhaps we will find solidarity in our bewilderment.
Camila arrives in the bedroom doorway rubbing her eyes.
“I don’t understand what you wanted me to see. I mean, the bags under my eyes aren’t looking so hot, but that’s it.”
I stare at her in disbelief. Sure, there are some dark half-moons under her eyes, but those are the least of my concerns. Hell, they’re not even on the list.
“What?” she probes.
“You don’t notice any, uh, changes?”
“No, babe. Have I gained weight or something? Maybe it’s the beer. No, you know what, I read that it’s a myth that beer makes you fat. And light beer isn’t always the best option either. Sometimes the stouts or porters actually have the lowest calories. Wait, so what’s the problem?”
“I—I don’t know. I really don’t. I was certain you’d see it. Fuck, am I going crazy? Like not in the colloquial way, but in the real way.”
I press on the skin below my eyes feeling for bulging bags. Yep, they’re there. Great. I can now operate under the notion that I never need to look in the mirror again, now that I have my own living, breathing, loving human mirror.
I’m on the verge of having a panic attack when Camila climbs on top of me and nibbles on my earlobe, and I can feel myself getting hard despite my turmoil. She feels it too. She runs her tongue slowly down my neck and just as I start to moan, she pulls back and smirks at me.
“Our sex last night was really good, wasn’t it,” she says, not really asking.
“Yeah, it was,” I whisper as she reaches her hand down my lime green boxer briefs. “It was like you knew what I wanted before I did,” I breathe. And it’s true. Every desire I had was fulfilled before I could conceptualize the shape of the desire itself.
“That’s how you know we’re a great fucking match, Jerome.”
I wince at her profanity. It sounds wrong coming out of her mouth, like she’s a robot that has been programmed to imitate a human. But I don’t mention her sudden change in vernacular. My dick is throbbing in her hand. She peels my boxer briefs off and I temporarily forget (or dismiss?) the problem at hand.
“What’s this scar from?” Camila asks, tracing the barely-detectable line dividing my chest in half. We’ve just arrived to Wahclella Falls after hiking for about forty minutes. She’s wearing a gold bandana that holds back the short blonde hairs around her face and a blue tank top that shows off her ever-growing biceps. I’m shocked she even noticed my scar. I’ve been diligent with my vitamin E oil application for the past twelve years. No one ever points it out.
“I had open-heart surgery as a kid,” I say, looking into her now-gray eyes. The 350-foot waterfall thrashes behind her.
“It’s beautiful,” she says. “Is your heart okay now?”
“Yeah, thankfully I haven’t had any problems since.”
No one has ever told me my scar was beautiful before, except for maybe my mom. I’d been bullied to no avail as a kid. They said I was weak like my heart. In order to compensate, I began lifting weights incessantly, a habit I’ve maintained into adulthood.
“I can feel that you’re self-conscious about it. There’s no need to be,” says Camila. This isn’t the first time she’s said something like this. Lately it’s been, I can feel your sadness. I can feel your anxiety. I can feel your pleasure. It’s like we are sharing the same amygdala now. I want to chop mine out and fry it up in a pan with butter and spices. Anything to separate myself from her.
“I used to invent stories about what really happened. My favorite involved my having a near-death experience. So, it was like the 1700s. Basically a time when the doctors knew nothing more about medicine than your average toddler does today. I’d been struck by lightning and my heart had temporarily stopped. The doctors had deemed me dead and began performing an autopsy. I awoke on the table as they were slicing my chest open. Crazy shit. The timid doctor died instantaneously of shock and the other ran away, wailing and ripping out chunks of his hair. I sewed myself up and made it home in time for a nice steak dinner,” I say.
She laughs in a good-natured way and thanks me for telling her something so personal about me. I brush it off like it’s no big deal, but I don’t know why I continue to feed parts of myself to her, knowing everything I say and do is a blueprint for her life.
“You know what? I’ve always been jealous of people with scars,” Camila says, peeling off her shorts and tank top to reveal a white bikini with orange and red flowers on it.
“Why’s that?” I ask, slipping out of my shorts.
“There’s always a story behind a scar. It’s like collecting memories from your past and decorating your body with them.”
“You don’t have any scars?”
“Nope, not even from falling down and scraping my knee as a kid or something silly like that. Not one.”
She holds up her hands, palms facing the sky, as if to say, Oh well.
“So in a way, you have no past,” I say. I mean for it to sound like a joke, but I think she can tell that I mean it. She squints into the sun then looks at me with empty eyes. They look dead, despite the shimmering sun.
She doesn’t respond. We wade into the water, which is so cold a tingle shoots up my spine. We swim for a while in silence. Then she stops swimming and calls to me from across the lake and says, “I can feel your fear.”
I make a mental note to text Sonya, “SOS.”
I’m nibbling on pretzels at Norm’s, and talking to Sonya, who has helped me through dozens of failed relationships, including that time I found out my boyfriend was a secret white supremacist.
“You know why all of your past relationships have failed right?” she asks, tilting her head the way she does when she wants to call me an imbecile but understands I need love.
“Not really,” I shrug, taking a sip of my PBR. Several times I’ve tried to convince a buddy of mine who works at Norm’s to order a keg of Sonoran White Chocolate Ale, but he usually just grins at me like, Do you know that we’re a dive bar and not just any dive bar but the worst dive bar imaginable?
“Well, allow me to enlighten you—”
“Wait, how long have you known the secret to my dating life and not told me?” I interject.
“You’re not exactly the most receptive person I know, Jerome. I love you, but I didn’t know how you’d handle something like that. I thought maybe you’d eventually figure it out on your own, but I guess I’m gonna have to spoon-feed it to you,” she says, scratching her neck and nodding to the bartender for another round.
“For one reason or another it seems like you want everyone you date to be more like you and less like them. Which is confusing, ‘cause like why not just date yourself then, you know? Basically, I’ve decided that you don’t want to be alone but you don’t want to compromise either, which is tricky. Like take Janessa for example. She went to Yoga Teacher school or whatever you call it to get certified, and then you convinced her that all that stuff is bogus and that she should be the lead in one of your short films that you never edit or do anything with.”
“What the fuck,” I say.
“I’m not done. Then there was Alex, who was smokin’ hot by the way. He was a stud snowboarder, but you hate the snow so you never went to his competitions, constantly bitching about how he should pick a more accessible passion, or something. Do you see what I’m saying here? There’s a trend. You don’t appreciate your partners’ quirks, interests, idiosyncrasies, their very themness. If you wanna know what I think, which I’m assuming you do because otherwise you wouldn’t be here, I think that you didn’t want to put forth the effort it took to truly know and appreciate someone. That’s exhausting, and sometimes even disheartening. The more you learn about someone the more you run the risk of hating them. Tell me I’m wrong. And I know you didn’t want to hate your partners. You just wished they’d known the difference between a continuity cut and match cut in film. Or that they’d understand your obsession with cinéma vérité, that stupid French film movement you’re always carrying on about. Or that they wouldn’t nag you for smoking so much Blueberry Kush. That’s all,” Sonya shrugs.
I don’t know what to say. I’ve never had anyone lay it out like that for me. The way she explains it, I sound like a total douchebag. And maybe I am. Maybe Camila’s transformation is all my fault.
“So, do you think I like, willed this into existence?” I ask.
“Could you be any more vague? Willed what into existence?”
“For fuck’s sake. You know what I’m talking about. Do I really have to say it again? Camila is basically mutating before my eyes. She looks like me, sounds like me, shares all of my same interests, passions, likes, and dislikes.”
“Guess you finally are dating yourself. I’ve gotta see this,” Sonya grins, taking a sip of her Modelo.
“No way, no fucking way. Not while I’m in this vulnerable state. I’ll shit myself.”
“Okay, well at least take some photos to track her progress.”
“That’s not a bad idea. What else you got?” I ask.
“Well, have you considered talking to her about it? I’m just spitballing here, but maybe be a mature adult?” she says, tilting her head down and raising her eyebrows.
“I did tell her to look in the mirror the other day, but she didn’t note anything out of the ordinary. I’m starting to think I’m imagining the whole thing.”
“You have to be more direct than that. It’s not fair to expect her to pick up on something,” she says, pursing her lips.
“What would I even say?”
“There’s not exactly a handbook for these types of things. Maybe ask her if she’s noticed anything off lately or if she’s been going through any major changes.”
“So much for direct. That sounds like I’m suggesting she has early onset menopause, Sonya. You can do better than that,” I laugh.
“How about you tell her how you feel? Like an expressive, sensitive man. You can practice on me. Ready, go,” she says.
“Okay, Camila. Um, I love you. You’re really, really great. You even had that threesome with Marc and I last week, which I appreciate—I promise I do—but, um, I feel like you’re gradually transforming into me,” I stutter.
“Cut out the preamble. Unrelated: how was the threesome?”
“Shhhh, I’ll tell you some other time when my life isn’t in shambles.”
Sonya makes a big production out of rolling her eyes, then finishes off her Modelo, beckoning for another one.
“I forgot what a drama queen you can be. Your life isn’t in shambles. If anything, hers is.”
“Hello, she’s losing her identity, Jerome. She’s become a chameleon.”
I nod. I know it’s a common misconception that the reason chameleons change colors is to camouflage themselves, but I can’t help but think this chameleon is unique.
After my talk with Sonya, I begin taking pictures of Camila while she’s sleeping and documenting her metamorphosis. I obsess over every miniscule detail, but not once do I mention her changes. I’m afraid she’ll have the same response as last time: I don’t notice anything different.
About a week and a half later, Camila and I are sitting on the gray Lanza loveseat in the living room one morning. Camila is nearly bursting out of her white Nordstrom nightgown. I pretend not to notice. She’s reading The Film Book: A Complete Guide to the World of Film while I play Bioshock on Xbox. I can feel the warmth of her gaze while I shoot a crazed splicer then use telekinesis to hurl his corpse at a living splicer. Once I die, I groan loudly and chuck the controller onto the antique oak chest we use as a coffee table. I glance at Camila and she feigns a cheery smile. There’s something terribly wrong with her smile. Her teeth are too white, too straight—the teeth of someone who hasn’t lived at all. It’s as if her mouth is erasing any memory of her so that it can begin again from scratch. It won’t be long before my slight overbite miraculously materializes in her mouth.
Infected by a rare strain of courage, I put my hand on her thigh and ask, “Are you feeling okay?”
“Yeah, of course. Why? Do I look sick?” Camila asks, scooching closer to me.
“No, uh, not exactly.”
I can feel my body tense up, but there’s nothing I can do about it. I’ve always been a terrible liar. I clam up, stain my shirts, accidentally shatter glasses.
“Then what is it, babe?”
I pause, trying to encourage the courage to spread, but my white cells attack it and it dies before it can reach my mouth.
“Nothing. I’m just checking in. Seeing how you’re doing. I realized I don’t ask you that enough. I mean, in the real way—not just the ‘How you doin?’ way.”
She leans in and gives me a slow kiss on the mouth. Her tongue tastes like coffee and peppermint toothpaste. Kissing her on this couch reminds me of our first date. I’d sat as far away from her as possible because I was nervous and I never make the first move. She’d inched closer to me until she was practically in my lap and then kissed me. Her lips had felt like they’d been recently sanded—soft and satisfying. After a few minutes of making out, she’d led me by the hand to my bedroom as if it were hers and always had been.
“You’re so sweet,” she says, once she pulls away. “I was actually gonna ask you the same thing. You’ve been acting kinda funny lately.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like, you practically leapt out of bed this morning when I put my hand on your chest. That wasn’t exactly the reaction I’d been going for,” she trails off, obviously hurt.
“Oh, that was nothing. Your hand was just freezing. That was all. And I really had to go to the bathroom.”
I don’t know how to tell her that I’d been shocked by her hairy, vascular hand. Although, frankly, I don’t know why I’m surprised by anything at this point. Shame on me.
“But you didn’t go to the bathroom when you left the room.”
“Yeah, I did. You just don’t remember. It was early.”
She lets her cheery mask down just for a second and I catch a glimpse of her eyes. They look vacant and expressionless. Like someone had turned the lights on in what they believed to be an occupied house only to discover that it had been abandoned decades earlier. But she catches herself.
“You know what you need to feel better?” Camila says, even though I hadn’t admitted anything was wrong. “You need a good breakfast and a mimosa.”
She stands up and practically skips into the kitchen. I follow her, without making the conscious decision to do so. It seems that I’m too scared to think or make decisions for myself. While she digs through the cabinets for suitable pans, I examine the Angel Falls postcard she’d recently hung up on the fridge using a Portland magnet. The postcard is from her father but the handwriting looks unnervingly similar to hers. A wave of icy fear rushes through my bloodstream. I have to fight the sudden urge to buy a one-way ticket to Venezuela, to drop in on her family unexpectedly. I want to see it with my own eyes that they exist. That she’d come from somewhere other than my imagination.
She pops a bottle of champagne and makes me a mimosa, humming a song I wrote with my high school band, Raven Meat.
“Let’s see if this will help your head,” she smiles.
“Thanks,” I mumble, grabbing the champagne flute from her hand.
Camila watches me drink my mimosa with wild intensity. It is as if she can’t fathom a world in which I am not hers. She looks like a wolf preparing to howl at the tumescent moon. It feels like my body is one large exposed nerve, like a patient in the game Operation. My insides are buzzing. I finish the mimosa and hold the flute out for her to refill it, which she does. I chug two more right in a row, which Camila replenishes before I can ask, looking anywhere but at her.
“Wait, no. No, no, no. Don’t tell me that’s a scar on your chest,” I say, once my eyes focus on her. I can detect the hint of a small scar over her sternum, peeking out from the top of her nightgown. She tilts her chin down and smiles at the discolored skin then looks back up at me, proud.
“Yeah, I’ve had it for years. I used to be embarrassed of it, but now I embrace it. It’s empowering to know that I can accept every part of me. You know what I mean?” she asks, as if we are having a normal conversation and this is a normal world and we are a normal couple.
“I think you’ve gone batshit crazy, woman,” I blurt out without thinking.
“What was that?” Camila threatens, her smile malicious.
I clear my throat and hold my flute out for another refill. She examines the glass in my hand as if it’s an alien object, then looks back up at me.
“Nothing, okay. I’m sorry. I don’t know why I said that. I think all the stress at work is really getting to me,” I submit.
She takes the flute and pours me another mimosa, then hands it back to me. She bites her bottom lip a little and stares up at me with those dead eyes again. I feel like her prey, absolutely helpless and afraid.
I want to tell you that her transformation has reversed itself, that everything is going swimmingly, but like I said, I’m a horrendous liar.
Camila puts herself to bed early one evening after having played a daytime Californication drinking game in which we took a shot every time Hank Moody fucked a girl or pissed off his soulmate, Karen. I take this time to retrieve a folder from the bone-white, Ikea desk in the corner of our bedroom. I open the manila file folder to the most recent page, dated yesterday. As all of the pages do, it contains a photo I took of her while she was sleeping and any mention of new interests or likes or dislikes that align with mine (most recently: She always always always wanted to grow up to be Bender from The Breakfast Club.)
I tiptoe to the edge of the bed. My hand trembles as I hold the photo next to her cheek. I can see the blood moving through my hand like watercolor.
I’m afraid of what I’ll discover this time.
There’s a new mole on her chin that hadn’t been there yesterday. I’ve always hated having that mole. One single, thick black hair continues to grow from it, no matter how many times I pluck it. She’ll encounter the same problem soon enough. A wicked part of me is enjoying her suffering as she receives the unattractive traits from me. You don’t get to pick and choose, you crazy witch.
I look from her face to the photo and back again a few times in a twisted version of one of those bar games in which you have to spot the difference between the two images. I don’t notice anything besides the mole, so I return the photo to its rightful place and set the folder down on the desk, holding onto the edge for support. No matter how many times I do this, I never get used to the anxiety that comes along with making new discoveries. I take a few deep breaths to calm down, but my heart continues to do the Harlem Shake. I am not convinced that the oxygen I’ve inhaled hasn’t flowed into her lungs instead.
Once my legs feel steady enough to walk, I grab my camera from bottom drawer of the desk then crouch down on the floor, careful not to step on the 90’s videotapes strewn about, and take a few pictures of her half-smiling sleep face that I will print later and add to the progress reports. I return everything to its rightful place and slouch down on the floor against the wall and begin to cry.
A fire has started inside my life and I can’t “Stop, Drop, and Roll.” Instead, I sit and watch the flames dance, brilliant in their cruelty. It’s not like they teach you how to deal with this shit in school. Never once did a teacher hand out a worksheet on what to do if your partner begins to transform into you. But, according to Sonya, this is what I wanted, wasn’t it?
Less friction, fewer disagreements. A lover to mirror my heart.
I’m nibbling on pretzels again at Norm’s, waiting for Sonya to meet me. I’m working on my eighth Upheaval IPA. I needed something stronger than the usual PBR. She arrives after a few minutes, sits down on the stool next to me, and straightens her posture, like Let’s get down to business.
“Did you bring the pictures?” she asks.
“Of course I brought the fucking pictures,” I say, pulling five out of my back pocket. I lay them on the bar top and order them chronologically.
Sonya fingers them delicately, her brow furrowed. She studies them for a while then looks up at me, her eyes wide.
“This is some Twilight Zone shit. I’m not gonna lie. When you first told me, I thought you were insane, but this is really happening.”
“How can this be? I mean, what kind of sorcery is this?”
“I don’t know, Sonya. You said it, though, didn’t you? I wanted this. I reject anyone who isn’t me.”
“I thought I was exaggerating.”
We sit in silence for a while, processing. I finish my beer and order another one. It’s all that I can think to do.
“Okay, listen to me, Jerome. I’m gonna give it to you straight. You need to tell homegirl what’s up or else I’m coming over there and slapping some sense into her,” she says.
“No offense, but I don’t think sense is what she’s missing.”
“Oh shut up. You know what I mean. This has gone on long enough.”
“You act like I’m a kid who’s been pulling a girl’s hair to get her attention in class. I’m not in control of this, Sonya. Can’t you see? She has this way about her. She can flip a switch in a second. A switch that should only appear in a Hitchcock film,” I say.
“I hear you, but you need your life back. And the only way you’re gonna get it is to grow some ovaries and tell her what’s what.”
“Alright, but it’s your fault when the cops never find my body.”
Sonya rolls her eyes like she does, then orders us another round. I’m trashed by the time I hug her goodbye.
Camila is reading The Sun Also Rises outside on the porch when I get home. I’ve read that book so many times, I can recite it forward and backward. I stumble up the four stairs leading from the lawn to our porch and sit down beside her.
“How was hanging out with Sonya?” Camila asks, looking up from her book.
“Pretty good. You know, same old shit. Just shot some pool and drank some beers.” And talked about how you might be worse than Norman Bates.
“Good, that sounds nice,” she smiles that cheery smile, reminiscent of The Stepford Wives, that makes me want to gauge her eyes out.
“What do you think of that book?” I slur.
“I absolutely love it—how aimless they all are. It makes sense that Gertrude Stein called them the Lost Generation. Lady Brett Ashley is such a progressive character for that time, too. Short hair, sleeps around, drinks like a lush. Girl can get it. And Jake, I feel so bad for him. It’s depressing, but in a delicious way.”
“Of course you fucking love it. That is my exact review of that book. Word. For. Word. I wish just once—just once—that you’d disagree with me about something. It could be anything for all I care. If it’s sunny out, tell me that it’s rainy. I don’t give a shit. Just have your own god damn opinion.”
I exhale deeply and slump back into my seat like a newspaper-stuffed scarecrow.
“You’re drunk, Jerome,” she hisses through clenched teeth.
“So?” I shout, raising my eyebrows. The flock of crows sitting on our fence squawks in response. Camila regains her composure and softens her voice.
“So you’ve never mentioned this book before. How would I be able to copy you?”
She’s got me there. My neurons aren’t firing as quickly as they usually do.
“Well, I own it, don’t I?” I don’t stick my tongue out, but the way I say it, I might as well have.
“You could have bought it and never read it or had it gifted to you,” she says.
“Alright, so I’m drunk. How about I go to bed and sober up and while I’m at it, you can stop becoming me,” I scream. I’ve tapped into a primal part of my psyche. I feel wild and free and it feels fucking good.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Camila asks, her mask slipping. The dead eyes are coming out to play.
“I tried to tell you, Camila. I really tried. I told you to look in the mirror, but you refused to admit what you saw. I don’t know if you’re a victim in all this too or if you’re the evil one behind it all, but let me tell you, your skin is as pale as my Finnish ass. There, I said it. And you know what else? Your hair is short and blonde and your tits have been replaced by pecs. You have a scar down your chest like I do that you claim has always been there.”
Camila doesn’t respond. She stands up from her seat and I think she’s going to punch me, but then she falls to her knees and begins to writhe in pain. Her body contorts and her bones crack then grow longer and snap back into place. She’s wailing like a banshee. I don’t move or try to help her. I think a part of me hopes that she is dying, that this is the end of her. I hate myself for hoping that. While I’m scolding myself for wishing death upon another person, she stands up calmly and points at me to stand up. I do, and now we are eye to eye. She’s grown to 6 ft. 3 in. right before me.
“Did you say something?” Camila asks, returning to her seat and her book and the rest of her life.
I pass out before I can speak.
Months later when I get home from work, Camila is building a bookshelf, a beer sitting on the floor next to her. I bend down and give her a kiss then go change into more comfortable clothes.
When I return to the living room, Camila stops what she’s doing and runs into my arms. It’s hard for me to catch her since she’s now pushing 220 lbs.
“I missed you all day,” she says.
“I missed you too. I was thinking we could go out on a date tonight. Get some crab legs and steak. It’s been a while since we’ve been out on a proper date,” I say, smiling a close-mouthed smile.
“Sounds perfect. I’ll go take a shower and get changed,” she says.
Later when we arrive at the restaurant, a few beers deep, the hostess grins and says that she, too, is a twin before leading us to our seats.
“What?” Camila mouths incredulously to me, before taking a seat.
I smile politely at the waitress, thanking her, and sit down. Jazz music plays softly in the background. We both order the king crab legs and whatever IPA they have, then I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.
As I wash my hands, I examine my face in the mirror. It’s a good-looking face, I decide, slapping my cheeks a few times. Without thinking, I lean over the sink and give myself a long kiss, the glass cold against my lips. I don’t move, not even when an old man enters the bathroom and coughs loudly.
I imagine I am in a movie, and I am waiting for the director to yell “Cut!”
Marisa Crane is a lesbian fiction writer and poet. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, Cotton Xenomorph, Okay Donkey, Occulum, and elsewhere.