Size / / /

Content warning:


Hi, we were both in Central Square on Friday, around 9:30 PM. I’m a tall trans lady with brown hair and glasses. You were standing in front of Sonia with some people. You were looking at your phone and then you looked up at me. Our eyes met for—I’m sorry, I’ve deleted and retyped this a couple times. Our eyes probably met for like a second, from your perspective. Several years ago I stayed at this inn where the innkeeper was this wizened old woman (I know that sounds dopey, but if you saw her you’d be like, “no she’s totally wizened”—serious crone hours in that inn), and I can’t really tell if I upset the old woman or if I did her some kind of favor? She was very hard to understand. Anyway, I have this curse now.

You ever have that thing happen to you—maybe your eyes meet with someone on a train, just as you’re glancing around, and they’re cute and you imagine maybe they think you’re cute and you let yourself wonder, what if some contrivance happened and you had a reason to talk? And what would your relationship with them be like? Nothing serious, you know, just a little daydreaming to pass the time on a train. That happens to me too.

But when it happens to me, some contrivance actually does happen, and I do talk to the person, and indeed, some sort of relationship comes of it, and then that relationship ends in whatever way, and suddenly I’m back on the train. Then the contrivance does not happen, and usually we both just continue on our way. Life resumes.

It doesn’t feel fair to name any of these people, but the first time it happened was this woman with a charming laugh. I was at the Franklin Park Zoo wandering and looking at animals, and so was she, and a giraffe farted real loud and these toddlers standing nearby all went, “EWWWW!” in a way you had to be there to appreciate. Take my word for it: riot. And she and I looked at each other and laughed and we both just kept laughing and had to sit down. And then we kept laughing and she said, “I was laughing about the kids going EWWW and now I’m laughing about how awkward this is,” but it took her three minutes to say it between gasps and having to repeat things because she cracked up so much I couldn’t understand her. I said, “I’m still laughing about the fart, honestly,” and we got dinner that night and brunch the next day and we had a perfectly wonderful year and a half together. I have a richness of warm memories and times we had, but we kind of knew it wasn’t working and we hugged each other a lot and were super supportive of each other and both cried a lot of sad snotty cries and officially Broke Up and then I was back at the zoo, and there she was, wandering, and the giraffe farted but the toddlers didn’t go EWWW and the moment passed and she wandered away.

Make no mistake, it completely knocked me on my shit the first time this happened. It knocks me on my shit every time, actually, but I just grabbed a park bench and sat shuddering and bawling the first time it happened. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t go after her or say anything. I mean, yeah, I’ve asked myself “what if” a few times, which I think is normal, but also I was shuddering and bawling on a park bench. I think even if breaking up hadn’t been the right thing to do, I knew her well enough to know she’d probably run from a stranger who came up to her, face streaked with tears and blubbering out “the TODDLERS didn’t go EWWWW!” and I did not want to upset her or go to jail. So we never met, and that was that.

Life continued on for me and the only difference was that she wasn’t in it. After this happened a few times I tried keeping an eye on lotto numbers and things like that, but they wind up being different every time. I don’t feel qualified to guess why. My friends had a spirited debate about whether to call it a Groundhog Day situation. I told them about the curse after the third time it happened (German, staying in the country for school, we lasted a couple months and they were delightful), and I don’t think they believed me at first, but they’re my friends so they were supportive. I love my friends. Anyway the argument is over whether this is a Groundhog Day thing or not because Colin says it’s really more like loops that all return to different points along the same line whereas in Groundhog Day—well you've seen Groundhog Day. Sorry.

It’s been more rare lately—you were the first time I’ve experienced it in a while. (There was quarantine and we were all cooped up for two years and by the time everything started opening up again, I’d figured some stuff out about myself. Now I don’t tend to go places alone very often.)

It doesn’t happen every single time I make eye contact with another person. God, can you imagine? No, there just seem to be some moments more suited than others, when you sit and wonder to yourself about the sprawl of different lives you might live. Sometimes I’ve even run into these people again after those moments, which is weird, but this time they’re just normal people in a room and no one time travels or whatever it is that’s happening. My friend Jake thinks it’s time travel.

Not all the relationships have been romantic ones. Certainly most of them, but not all. The non-romantic ones don’t tend to end as dramatically as the romantic ones do, but there comes a point when a person is just not a part of your life anymore in any meaningful way. You click the Like button when they post a photo of their pet but you know you’re never going to be in the same room as this person again, and then bam, you’re back at the Halloween party and the guy dressed as Breakfast in Bed (pajamas with cereal boxes stapled to them) doesn’t spill his sangria on you, and the woman doesn’t make a joke about “you could’ve spilled it on me and it’d be fine!” since she’s wearing all black because her costume is Sexy Roy Orbison. (My costume was Jack from the end of Titanic where he’s all frozen. I had little fake icicles and stuff in my hair.) (It was part of a couples costume—that relationship was unrelated to the curse, as far as I can tell.)

My friends also convinced me it’s a good idea to keep knowledge of future events to myself, and that’s how I've been playing it. It was hard to keep a straight face leading up to that January 6th thing the second or third time, but what could I have done? What warning could I have given that wouldn’t create a bunch of questions I couldn’t answer? “I stayed at an inn and now I live out entire relationships with strangers before returning to the moment we met” probably won’t cut it as an explanation for how I knew these things in advance.

We were camping, the night I told you about the curse. We sat by a fire in that spot you loved, in the woods right next to a stream that roared quietly all night and all day. You said the part about no warnings sounded rehearsed. Then you said, “Oh, right.”

I still remember the way your lips pursed and your forehead furrowed with that sexy thoughtful look when I asked you: If I go back to when we met, how could I explain it? What would you expect your own self to believe, knowing you as you do?

I could probably draw it from memory: your face, catching the fire’s light on one side and swallowed whole by dark on the other. The collar of your button-up and the shadow it cast on your throat, your collarbone. “Well, you’re right," you said, “it’s a lot. You know how I’m always trying to figure out the Rules of a movie or a show or a game? I’d say front-load the important stuff. Really lay the rules out. Chris Nolan that shit.” We both laughed. “No but seriously!” you said. “And you have to include the thing about Chris Nolan, because that’s a joke I’d make and I’d recognize that. And it’s a solid joke and I want it on the record. Also you have to include the thing about DiCaprio—okay, okay, we’ll say Jack from Titanic—but you have to include it, because that is adorable and I’ll think that’s adorable. Oh, you know what? Back then I’d read the missed connections sometimes. Try that.”

In the version of our lives where I didn’t have to write this post, a party bus pulled up and a woman with wild curly blonde hair got out of the party bus, stepped out onto the sidewalk, braced herself against a NO PARKING sign, and barfed voluminously. We looked at the barf, then her, then each other, and we both giggled. I said, “Well, I’m not walking through that,” and that started a conversation, and you mentioned a show you were going to the next night, and you said I should go too. (In this version, where I’m typing this, she just stood there braced against the sign for a while before hopping back onto the party bus. I stood there staring and waiting for her to puke. You went inside. I needed to collect myself so I did that instead of following you in.)

For a while we were simply at a lot of the same shows and events and parties and movies, floating in and out of one another’s conversations, but I noticed you were around. Then I had this series of shitty days, and dysphoria was bugging me out a little, and you and I had this quintessentially “11 PM on a fire escape levels of realness” conversation, on a fire escape, around 11 PM, at this event at the Masons lodge that happens a couple months from now. The door to the basement was open below us and you were sitting next to me. I was doing this whole mid-Atlantic accent schtick because it was a 40s-themed thing, and “Moonlight Serenade” echoed up from the basement and I had my head turned to you and I was about to say, “You can kiss me, you know.” I got out, “You can, uhm, k—” and then you kissed me.

I fixed my lipstick in my car’s visor mirror later that night. Then I read the text you sent me and read it again.

When we were sitting on that fire escape, you gave me advice I’ve followed so many times between that night and the writing of this post: look around myself and take a snapshot.

There’s the scent of hotel soaps and my makeup remover and cold tile floor and the fear that’s always there when another person is about to see what “ready for bed” looks like for me these days. With the foundation off and the mascara wiped away and various pieces of shapewear kicked off and hung up. It’s a clutching prickling terror I can feel in my chest, that I won’t be as alluring when it’s just me and my nightgown. It’s the fear of not knowing. I took a snapshot of that feeling before I came out of the bathroom. And as soon as I came out of the bathroom your face lit up, and you were just as excited and just as hungry as you’d been all night, and I didn’t even notice the fear as it departed.

There’s the morning we had to put your cat down, and the scent of the air just before dawn as we drove to the 24 hour animal clinic and then the extremely specific smell of a veterinarian's office. I squeezed your hand while the vet told you the options, that unfortunately she would recommend euthanasia. I remember her sad face as she said, “I know it’s the hardest choice a pet owner has to make,” and how you told me later that it wasn’t. It was the easiest choice you’d ever had to make. You saw this creature who’d given you so much love, and it was suffering and that suffering wasn’t going to get better. You didn’t think twice. You knew you had to do right by the cat.

There’s that first truly warm day that year, the first day it stayed warm after dark, and we sat on that dock on the Esplanade and somehow started talking about mermaids. Sorry, that’s a joke you would have laughed at—I like mermaids a lot. Not, like, where it’s my only Thing, but I like them. There was that scent of wet earth, like life itself was ready to burst out of every inch of the world. We stared at the water and we got to talking about the Little Mermaid, the original fairy tale, and how every step on land was like walking on knives for her, and how nightmarish that would all be. You said it seemed like something a person would never get used to. I rested back against a column and you rested back into me and my arms were around you, and I said I imagine you’d kind of get used to never getting used to it.

There’s a love of dancing I rediscovered because we’d go dancing, you and I, and you moved like a scarf billowing in the wind because you are graceful, and I moved like a huge dork because I am a huge dork. But the glances you snuck at my hips when we danced, it pleases me to report, were exactly what euphoria feels like. And sometimes when it was a song I knew well I’d lip-sync it at you and you’d get that smile, and sometimes I just watched you move, how far away in concentration you looked. I loved your serious little face. When you were away I’d put on one of my dance mixes, and I’d dance around my apartment, facing an empty space I imagined was you. I loved the scar you have on your jawline. I loved the way light would hit it, those gel dance-floor lights, and you’d be cast in blue or purple and the scar would be this little dark line against your lovely thoughtful face.

There’s the scent of the crook of your neck, where it meets your shoulder, and its infinity of variations; how it’s different after a normal workday, or when you’ve just woken up, or when you’ve gotten some sun, or when you’ve returned from the gym.

And I loved you, and I felt loved. The way you held me—your eyes, and your hands, and your voice—shushed away so many little fears. Like that shapeless nervousness I’d get just before I went outside. Like anxieties about being seen. But I learned how to see me the way you did, because I could see me in your glances and gazes and touches. I could see me in what you wanted and it felt good. All those little fears receded.

There came a point, in the acquisition of all these moments and memories, where I realized this had gone on longer than any other relationship of mine, even the phantom ones. I wondered if maybe this was it, if I’d learned whatever lesson was making me go through these timelines, and now I got to be happy. I assumed that if you’re getting groundhogged (that’s what I’ve been calling it), it’s because you’re supposed to learn some lesson. But over time, I thought about it less and less.

That night by the fire, you told me you’d want me to try to find you, if we turned out to be groundhogging. By then we’d been together for a year and a half already, and I remember having a little (normal, uncursed) daydream of living out the rest of our lives together and then rewinding to when we met and doing it all again. Then you said you’d want me to do that even if we broke up. You said you’d want to know what happened to us, and why.

You told me I could put the following in my post, and it would be likely to convince you I’m telling the truth: when you were small you made up a play where you had your doll Kennedy steal the magic bracelet from your other doll Queen Clora, and the magic bracelet was hidden in the teapot in your Fisher-Price play kitchen. You wrote a whole script for it that you never showed anyone. That’s what you told me, that night we sat by the fire, a year and a half into our relationship.

I’m writing this because of the perfect swoopy tousle of your hair when you’re half asleep in the morning, and because your sex playlists are some next-level sex playlists. I’m writing this because I liked your friends and you liked mine and we both maintained our own circles but we had circles that melded well, instead of how your ex’s friends would all huddle together at parties and talk about podcasts. I’m writing this because of the way you’d stand with your hips cocked when you’d come in from working on the garden and it just made me want to deluge you with kisses. Because of how you looked in the pajamas I got you for Christmas, and the little songs you make up and sing to yourself while you’re cooking. Because of every wonderful thing that’s not rendered any less wonderful by how we parted. I’m writing this because the mermaid got to walk on land for a while and she paid that cost by living in a world full of knives with nowhere painless to step, but she was so dizzyingly in love she barely noticed. I’m writing this because you really do get used to never getting used to it. I’m writing this because I think I understand now what you understood in the vet’s office: that there are choices which seem like they should require hours of intense deliberation, but whose answers come to us in an instant. You asked me to tell you about us, and what happened to us, and because I want to honor that request I’m writing this to tell you that after four and a half years, you left me for a girl who dresses like me and likes the same things I like but she’s cis and she’s shorter than you.

it’s NOT okay to contact this poster with commercial services



Jess Cameron (jesswritingstories@gmail) lives in Boston with the ghost of her cat.
Current Issue
30 Jan 2023

In January 2022, the reviews department at Strange Horizons, led at the time by Maureen Kincaid Speller, published our first special issue with a focus on SF criticism. We were incredibly proud of this issue, and heartened by how many people seemed to feel, with us, that criticism of the kind we publish was important; that it was creative, transformative, worthwhile. We’d been editing the reviews section for a few years at this point, and the process of putting together this special, and the reception it got, felt like a kind of renewal—a reminder of why we cared so much.
It is probably impossible to understand how transformative all of this could be unless you have actually been on the receiving end.
Some of our reviewers offer recollections of Maureen Kincaid Speller.
Criticism was equally an extension of Maureen’s generosity. She not only made space for the text, listening and responding to its own otherness, but she also made space for her readers. Each review was an invitation, a gift to inquire further, to think more deeply and more sensitively about what it is we do when we read.
When I first told Maureen Kincaid Speller that A Closed and Common Orbit was among my favourite current works of science fiction she did not agree with me. Five years later, I'm trying to work out how I came to that perspective myself.
Cloud Atlas can be expressed as ABC[P]YZY[P]CBA. The Actual Star , however, would be depicted as A[P]ZA[P]ZA[P]Z (and so on).
In the vast traditions that inspire SF worldbuilding, what will be reclaimed and reinvented, and what will be discarded? How do narratives on the periphery speak to and interact with each other in their local contexts, rather than in opposition to the dominant structures of white Western hegemonic culture? What dynamics and possibilities are revealed in the repositioning of these narratives?
a ghostly airship / sorting and discarding to a pattern that isn’t available to those who are part of it / now attempting to deal with the utterly unknowable
Most likely you’d have questioned the premise, / done it well and kindly then moved on
In this special episode of Critical Friends, the Strange Horizons SFF criticism podcast, reviews editors Aisha Subramanian and Dan Hartland introduce audio from a 2018 recording for Jonah Sutton-Morse’s podcast Cabbages and Kings which included Maureen Kincaid Speller discussing with Aisha and Jonah three books: Everfair by Nisi Shawl, Temporary People by Deepak Unnikrishnan, and The Winged Histories by Sofia Samatar.
Issue 23 Jan 2023
Issue 16 Jan 2023
Issue 9 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
2 Jan 2023
Welcome, fellow walkers of the jianghu.
Issue 2 Jan 2023
Strange Horizons
Issue 19 Dec 2022
Issue 12 Dec 2022
Issue 5 Dec 2022
Issue 28 Nov 2022
By: RiverFlow
Translated by: Emily Jin
Issue 21 Nov 2022
Load More
%d bloggers like this: