This page contains:
- Body transformation
- Mental health issues
Afterwards she’s all bragging about how strong she is, both physically and spiritually, and I'm too busy chewing on the spirulina patties to care, even if I’d normally care. “I’ve got clairvoyance,” she says, “and maybe the path of the fish isn’t for you anymore.”
“Good spirulina,” I say, after I’m finished. “Where’d you get it?”
Nobody remembers exactly when it started. Probably back in the ’90s when they cloned that sheep, back in the ’10s when they started working on cloning people on the DL, back in the ’20s when the retrovirus broke our genetic virginity. If you’re rich you can keep your original stock on ice, but who’s got enough money to buy a house anymore? No, we move forward like sharks, some of us because of the shark genes we carry in our bodies, some of us because that’s just what we’re supposed to do now.
During she starts crying. I tell her, “You okay? We can stop if you’re not okay.” She’s like, “I’m fine, it’s just something I’ve been doing since, you know—it’s the connection, you know?” It’s not my first time with someone who busts out crying. But that’s not really what I expected from her.
Over the roast protein mash later she’s like, “They say that’s something the treatments can do.”
And I’m like, “What was yours, if you don’t mind me asking?” I already know, but I want to know if her story stays the same.
And she’s like, “Praying mantis.” New answer! Probably the right one this time.
And I’m like, “No shit? I wouldn’t have figured it’d do that.”
She laughs. “It’s not like people think. I think we probably misunderstand them.”
“Lot we don’t understand,” I say, nonchalantly picking chitin out of a hollow spot in my incisor.
I remember the news. “Fish genes in your children??” It was way more of a scare tactic back then. And I guess people looked down on fish back then. I remember screenshots of the first chyrons in the news, all FISH THOUGHTS and MEMORIES OF THE SEA, people in suits looking concerned. When I went in to the doctor it was all I could afford, though. I was hoping it’d land me a better job.
You’d think the time there was money on the table I’d have been more engaged, but he was just so sad. He had those puppy-dog eyes, you know the ones, like a dog that’s been beaten all day and still comes up with its tail wagging. I was saying the ugly shit he wanted me to say, doing the boring shit he wanted me to do. I was grinding my fucked-up toenails into his side like he asked—I guess some kind of bird thing, weird, real upper middle class—and he was finished in like thirty seconds from that alone.
“I have a kind of private question, if that’s okay,” he said.
I knew what it was about. A big part of me wanted to ask for more money then and there, but I was just so fucking tired. “Yeah?”
“How did you know, uh …”
I couldn’t suppress a groan.
Yeah, I get false memories. I think they’re more usual than people let on these days. I see the sun from way below, doesn’t hurt to look at it, and I can feel electricity. The sun ripples and warps in the sky and I’m confused like I don’t know what air is or what water is. I see the right cluster of bushes after the rain and something in me feels comfortable in a weird and stupid way. I guess maybe it’s why I don’t give that much of a shit about my family, feel like it’s weird and parochial and small, but maybe I always felt that way—I’m pretty sure I did, but you wouldn’t think that to hear my mom talk. She can afford to talk that way, talk about how what I’m doing is going to negatively change my art, my body, my social life. “Are you and your wife okay?” Yeah, mom, sure, I guess.
Afterwards they’re telling me about their tattoos. “Salmon’s a masculine animal, you know.”
“It’s not perceived that way in Western culture, it’s not what we associate with fish, masculinity. But traditionally—” And I’m thinking, among who? Are you getting to that part? No? And I lose my train of thought for a minute, and they’re looking at me.
“Interesting. So what does it mean to you?”
“I guess just an energy sort of thing, how I want to carry myself in the world, you know.”
“I feel that. I guess that’s why I have this one.” I shift my arm.
“Oh, the lightning bolt?”
“Yeah.” It’s not really, it’s because power scares me shitless and I wanted to tame it on my living flesh, but who cares right now. They’re out in the kitchen and they’re serving up their vegan chili. I can taste nutch in it and it turns my stomach a little, like, damn, why’d you put nutch in this, the beans were fine and it must have cost more than them, but I’m like, “This is good.”
“Thanks!” They beam with pride. “You said you liked making chili too, maybe you could show me your recipe sometime?”
“Tell you what,” I say, laughing. “You take me to Amazon, I’ll take you to Flavortown.”
The first night after the treatments I had a dream, or it felt like a dream. I wasn’t swimming, but the logic of swimming applied to walking. I was floating, buoyant, like gravity was nothing. My clothes billowed around my body and the light took on a lazy shimmering quality. It was the most at peace I’ve ever felt in my life, and I don’t know if that peace came from me or where else it could have come from. For the next few nights I went to sleep hoping I’d have the same dream, but I never did again.
Before it was the wildest thing, she wouldn’t believe anything about my story, all “No way you’ve been on ’mones for that long,” all “Sockeye? I gotta be real, you don’t feel like a sockeye to me,” all “I bet you should be the one buying me dinner.” I almost picked up and left at that last one but honestly, it was a bad time—one packet of ramen left at home, fresh out of loose change after the bus trip, bank overdrafted. I know if I had asked my sugar mama she would have sent me enough to eat, but I couldn’t handle the conversation afterwards. It’s been hard to handle conversations for a while, even before whatever hell the recent treatments played on my social skills.
She was okay, honestly. That’s the stupidest thing. Half of the stories I got, the emotional work’s okay, the sex work is lousy. The other half it’s the other way around. I don’t know that I’ve ever had both be truly terrible. Maybe queers just invest in one skill or the other and that’s why we’re like this.
And afterwards—eggs! A whole-ass omelette, aux fines fucking herbes!
Every day for a few weeks I kept an eye on my body, half expecting some Cronenberg shit to happen to me. It really didn’t. I know people who’ve been on the treatments for years can have their bodies go truly nuts, breathing through their necks, antlers, estrus, whatever whatever. All I notice over time is a feeling of vulnerability, a need to belong to a group, strange feelings about the river, a little change in body odor. Not fishy, more like some kind of exotic, expensive meat. Over enough time that need to belong got under my skin and a lot about my life fell even further apart.
I did so much ghosting for the stupidest reasons.
I didn’t like the way he talked about fetishes neither of us have. (Sure, but he was a fucking line cook and never went hungry.)
Her semen tasted terrible, like something rotting. (She’s perfectly nice, and I see her around, but we don’t make eye contact, and over this I pretend she doesn’t exist?)
They kept acting like I owed them something when we talked, like texting them every other day wasn’t enough, like I wasn’t enough of a person for them. (There went another sugar parent—they’ve all been like that, and God knows they had a tech job.)
Her pussy somehow gave me pneumonia. (At least that one made an entertaining story for the ones that came later.)
Sometimes I think that if I could handle people better, I wouldn’t need to handle people so much to live.
The last dream I remember was going to a sushi place on a client’s dime. She was an amalgam of a bunch of different people, some of whom had never paid me, some of whom I didn’t even sleep with. I ate and ate and ate, never getting full, and then I felt guilty because I had eaten hundreds of dollars worth of food. She just laughed at me when I apologized. I woke up in the morning and my roommates had thrown out the bag of short-grain sticky rice I got by tricking the self-checkout stand into thinking it was bleached flour, only $0.71 a pound. Something about a moth infestation. My dreams mostly stopped making sense at all after that.
Back before she disappeared on me, the woman who taught me everything I know told me that we were God’s pets and our job was to amuse Him—that that’s why life is so capricious and stupid, and that’s why if you cling on for dear life you might survive things it’d be unreasonable to survive. It makes about as much sense as anything else.
So what should I say? My wife left me? No one can afford to leave anyone anymore. I’m sure as far as the government knows we were never together, or we never split up, or whatever. The gene transfer went so bad I couldn’t land a job as a circus geek, have to fuck strangers to eat? Nah, it’s more that it didn’t fix what it promised to. The genes are fine, it’s me that’s fucked up, or society, or whatever we’re supposed to say about these things now. I’m sad all the time and want to die all the time? Darling, I know I did before, don’t blame the therapy for that one! Plenty of people with the genes I got do fine. I’m not gonna be a cautionary example of anything in particular, because that’d require me to be an example of anything in particular.
The excitement of being with someone like me had died down a little bit by the time it came to the choking stuff. I guess it was the shock of seeing her pick up the oxygenated lotion, which I know cost like $30 a bottle, and squirt it over my hands like it was bottled water, like wasting it didn’t matter. In that moment, in seeing her eyes catch mine as I caught secondhand anxiety about wasting something too precious to afford, I knew we weren’t exactly alike. Whatever glamour had been there was broken.
“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. You know I’m good for it,” she said, trying to make light of it.
“Sure,” I said. “How do you want me to do this?”
“You just put your hands around my gillslits, your thumbs around my carotid, and squeeze.”