The History of a Planet and Character Renewal

ONE: The Transformation

I used to work in a submarine sandwich shop in Longmont, Colorado. A woman came in to buy a sandwich. As a summer frock, she wore juniper and glacially displaced stones. There was an isolated shower near her hips where the dress clung to her body like moss. A thousand butterflies swarmed at her breasts. She turned to go, and a leaf fell from her boughs as autumn came on in her wake. I watched the leaf flutter to the floor, where it became someone else’s worn business card with an address written in pencil on the back. Her name was Simone.

Sometime later, I wrote her this invitation:

When I think of you, my neurons flap against my skull, releasing a meadow of tall grass and gentle wind. Buffalo are hiding in the grass. Drifting over my chlorophylled self, I settle in the meadow. A thousand butterflies find food in my body, and I know what it is to be you.

Perception Potluck

Alfred’s shed Please attend

Jack’s lawn Friends welcome

TWO: Three Tubs of Soup

Simone accepted the invitation and delivered to the event a half-breed concomitant named Kree, three tubs of soup and a loaf of homemade bread. The smell of baking was still on her when she hugged me.

I introduced them to Alfred and Thelma.

Simone passed the bread. I tore off a piece and put it in my mouth. The five of us sat against a wall.

On the wall opposite hung a painting of a paintbrush, painting a parrot. Thelma reached for the brush and wrapped her fingers around it. We gazed at one another before following her lead. Now, each of us held onto it, as if the paintbrush were a three-dimensional object and only two feet away.

As for Simone’s soup, it rotated one’s brain stem to the foreground. Thus, the unoffended perceptions of animals were regained. The effect earned her soup this nickname: Zimone’s Zoological Zoup.

It was a good beginning.

THREE: Desert of Me’s

Several potlucks later, the five of us found each other in the crowd at Thelma’s. Kree supplied the first course. He placed a piece of orange peel onto each of our tongues. Simone led Alfred to another room and pulled him to the floor beside her.

Here’s what happened:

I was thirteen and walking through a desert in Mexico. My father walked behind me, and I wasn’t allowed to look back. Because of this, I couldn’t be sure if he was really there. It was my rite of passage and would culminate when I found Peyote and ingested it. The plant would guide me to it, “bending the reeds of your body like a wind.”

After three days, I stopped eating. “Peyote likes a clean house,” my father said. “It cannot fill what is not empty.” Three more days on hot sands, and I no longer knew who I was. Such knowledge trailed me like tumbleweed.

I must have found Peyote and welcomed it in, because the earth cracked open. I was sucking a stalactite when she shook me loose again, depositing me back on the desert floor. It had been day when I’d arrived, but now it was night. It could have been thirty nights later, for all I knew.

Human figures took shape around me then — one squatting, one sitting, one standing on his head. One stalked a snake; another walked on fire. Each of them was me. A baby, a boy, an old man.

One had his arms raised to the moon. I traced his body with my eyes, his breathing with my lungs, his utterances with my tongue. I was him (easy to feel since he was me). I turned to face the moon. It bounced light to my eyes, which collected and reflected, while the source of it all grinned behind the world.

I glanced back at the figure I was impersonating, but he was gone. I looked in the other direction, and there, staring back at me, was the thirteen-year-old body I thought I still occupied.

Another me sprinted by between us. This time, I became him immediately. The planet rolled under my feet, as if I were keeping it in motion. A bead of sweat gathered and dropped from my brow. When it hit the sand, I was sitting cross-legged there, the body I’d just occupied running past and out of sight.

I’d been a man. Many had come before me. Many would follow. I held my hands to my face. They had sliced open much animal flesh and pierced the flesh of man. I watched my children grow. Remembering how I’d led my son on a rite of passage, as my father had led me, I was suddenly back in the body I’d started with, the thirteen-year-old who’d ingested Peyote. Only, my skin was looser.

I began switching bodies at will, bounding between perspectives. I changed so rapidly I saw through all eyes at once. Then, the figures swirled together like the gasses of a forming star. Everything exploded, and I was back in Thelma’s house.

Thelma had fallen to her face and was snorting. Alfred and Simone were still in the next room.

“Was that my father?” I asked Kree.

Commotion ensued. A man’s shirt was ripped open; his chest pounded. People asked what he ate.

“Egg salad,” someone said, “but I had it too, and so did Mark.”

Our guess had been confirmed: not every nervous system can stomach every perception. We made an early end to the night. Those who never returned would eventually flock to the predictable world the seventeen Four Dimension Generals were already beginning to encase themselves in.

“What happened?” Thelma asked, back from the desert.

“Stay away from the egg salad.”

– Excerpted from The Hermaphrodite: An Hallucinated Memoir [Green Integer, 2010]

Daniel Grandbois is the author of the Believer Book Award Reader Survey Selection and Indie Next Notable Book Unlucky Lucky Days. His work appears in many journals and anthologies, including Conjunctions, Boulevard, Mississippi Review, and Fiction. Also a musician, he plays in three of the pioneering bands of “The Denver Sound:” Slim Cessna’s Auto Club, Tarantella, and Munly.

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