I hesitated for a second, then I took off my gold Rolex and tossed it in my drawer beside my keys, my wallet, my phone, my cigarettes and the rest of my pocket litter. I didn’t bother logging out of the computer; there was a half-written email on the screen, which tailed off mid-sentence, mid-word even. I got up, put my jacket on, and walked out the office without saying anything. Nobody looked up.
I walked down Elmwood Terrace and looked in the windows of the townhouses. I don’t know what I hoped to see, but I didn’t see it. I watched a lawyer dictate something; I wondered how he did it—how he kept going to the office every day, with his name in the papers, with the officers going through his shredding, just waiting for the inevitable indictment, for it all to be taken away. Purgatory, it seems to me, is the worst of all possibilities. There is certainty in fire.
I walked through the entrance to the park and took the middle of the three paths, towards the fountain, which was not turned on. Its basin was a tenth filled with rainwater and bored students sat on its parapet, reading electronic messages on their devices. As I walked past, my legs became heavy and I was momentarily dizzy. The legs had always been unreliable, sports-day refuseniks. It occurred to me that they had always let me down; how many times had they wobbled me when I knew I was being watched? I thought mainly of the high school catwalk. My face was traitorous too, always blushing when I had nothing to apologize for. Long forgotten memories, but it was as good a time as any for them to reassert themselves.
I slowed down and walked on a bit to the slope, where I lay down on the grass, which was a little damp—I presumed with unevaporated morning dew. I had nothing, so put nothing between the wool of my suit and the earth. It made me feel instantly ten degrees colder. It wasn’t a cold day, it was grey and mild with a little breeze. Good walking weather.
I watched people without particular interest, without moving my head around to track them. They came into my line of sight and then left. I concentrated on my breathing; I wanted to use breathing techniques to control my body temperature, but I was unable to do this. I quickly lost track of the time; with every breath, every ten breaths, every hundred, the vagueness of the hour increased. The gulf between the possible early and possible late time grew. This was all meaningless to me, and I thought about it only as I could not succeed in thinking of nothing. I tried to think about my breathing and nothing else, but this inevitably led to thoughts of other things.
At some point it started to drizzle. The dew had already started to draw its way up my suit, so this didn’t constitute any additional hardship, but I did start to attract attention from the dog walkers, who now universally rushed, just slightly, to remove themselves from the rain. An older man in a North Face jacket with a farmdog asked me if I was alright and I pulled a noncommittal face in the direction I was already facing, which seemed to satisfy him.
The park emptied as the rain increased. My hair was sodden, my fringe glued wet to my forehead, my shirt was translucent, and I began to shiver. A few people rushed by, presumably it was about five PM, when the working day ceased, but they had tunnel vision, or perhaps they were just unsettled by me. A woman did speak to me, I think, but did not approach. I think she asked me something as she walked by on the path, but I wasn’t paying attention so can’t be sure.
The rain let up at dusk, and dissipated entirely by nightfall. There was no real relief, as the temperature dropped so that I was shivering quite violently. The park was empty other than for foxes and squirrels, which kept their distance from me. The patrol came through at some point, but were undisciplined, chatting and smoking and spitting, and did not see me, although I made no effort to hide from them.
Perhaps the breathing technique had started to work, as I seemed to become insensible to the pain of exposure. I should have been uncomfortable, but I had a feeling of leaving my body behind me. I was relieved to feel that my identity was fading from me. It had, in a way, been fading for a long time. It was hard to be an individual; it had been this way since I first sought employment. I feel that even a child must struggle to own its personality now.
I was physically fit, intellectually torpid, and ruthlessly specialized. I took my place proudly in the division of labour. I worked accounts like an ancestor may have worked sheet metal; that same car door, over and over, the same shape, same curvature. To fail to conform is to fail; the door must conform, the accounts must conform, and I must conform.
We must not drink too much, we must not smoke, we must eat an omnivorous diet while professing a wish that we ate less meat—that we had less of an impact on our environment. We must disdain fast food, as a rule, but indulge when we deserve it: when we have had a hard week of labour. If we work ten hours of overtime in a week, it is okay to eat a cheeseburger. You can say that you did this, you can regale your company at a dinner party, and everyone will understand. We all understood that.
We try to reuse packaging; we complain that the supermarket over-packages things. We say: why does the avocado need a polystyrene tray? But we still buy the avocado, which was flown here from South America, and we profess we wished we made less impact on the world.
I seldom drank anymore, and only rarely smoked since leaving university, although I kept this a secret from colleagues and I never bought them from my local store. I had abandoned a decade of vegetarianism as it was a dangerous sign of radicalism. I wished I ate fewer creatures as I believed that I may have empathized with them; although I am not sure if that is true. I find animals to be a disgusting form of monster. This doesn’t preclude empathy. I also feel bad about the carbon emissions as I want to reduce my impact on the world.
I was never very interested in politics, but now I made an effort to avoid it. I had been unnerved by the plebiscites, the binary choices; yes or no. It seemed to be an outrageous con, a passing of buck, an illusion of simplicity. It created fanatics, and spurred talk of traitors and accusations of duplicity. I had taken my choices, plumped for yes or no, and always, always, lost. I never tried to persuade, and was never persuaded by others. I no longer tried to persuade even myself.
And everywhere the talk was of sovereigns, of sovereignty, as if it was a thing, and not a relict from the time of kings. I preferred not to think in terms of sovereigns, but in terms of monsters. The people wanted smaller, simpler monsters. Who would be its head? Its heart? Its conscience? I preferred a complicated monster, many headed, self-replenishing, moving in all directions and none, without purpose; benign. I preferred a monster so ludicrous, so futile, its monstrosity could barely be understood. All parts in deadlock as legs moved east and arms moved west. New heads popping up above abdomens and kneecaps. Ugly; without symmetry. Unaddressable, for what part would you address? But the trend was for smaller, simpler monsters: human shaped, with human desires. I was scared of all monsters, but scared most of these.
I supposed I was vegetarian again; I noted that I had failed to think of nothing. It was, and remains, my aim. To be, and nothing more. A tree or a flower, turning air from one form to the other.
At dawn the patrol came back around; they asked me who I was, but I did not know and so could not tell them. I had decided that their language was foreign, for I had no language. They took me and I did not resist.
After brief conference, they took me to a hospital. Nurses and doctors spoke to me; they cleaned me; they tried to feed me, but I did not eat. The doctors were keen to come to a diagnosis, although I think they suspected the truth, which was that there was nothing wrong with me, other than being a tad hypothermic.
They asked me some questions, showed me some cards, and they took blood from me. I disinterestedly allowed this to happen. I think they found my uncooperation frustrating, for they soon bored trying to communicate with me. I can only imagine that the results of the inkblot card tests were inconclusive.
A few days later, when they tried to force a feeding tube down my throat, I raised my hands in surrender. I had not at first noticed the pain of hunger, but now that I was warm and comfortable and fussed over, it had become unignorable. It was a relief to eat, and it did not feel like a compromise.
Around this time, I received my first visitors. My erstwhile parents, my erstwhile partner, and my erstwhile child. I was surprised to see them; they being firmly part of my previous, discontinued, existence. They used familiar but expired terms with me; labels that I no longer recognized. They seemed sad and anxious, but I felt that they understood, though they could not bring themselves to say it. Their language was no longer my own; their meanings were not mine. All was just noise, and to be caressed by them was just to feel the softest form of agony.
I had never wanted a child, and it had disgusted me from first sight. Rather than it looking like me or my wife, I found that over time my wife’s features were morphing into a monstrous version of the child’s. Looking at them, I felt faintly sick, and I yearned for them to leave and never return. I expressed this by turning my head the other way on my pillow, or by simply closing my eyes.
One day I was resting in my hospital bed, as was my wont, when I was overcome with silent panic. It occurred to me that I was full of shit. All was not noises; this was the woman I hitherto had loved, or believed I loved, and what really was the difference? She was there with me, rambling, stroking my hand. I snuck a glance at her eye, something I had meticulously avoided with all humans since my transition, and I could see pain in it, and I knew I had caused it. I listened to what she was saying; it was nonsense, semi-delirious, but I understood her; her language was my language. I was tempted to speak to her, to tell her I was okay, not to worry. But I couldn’t explain myself. It seemed like too grand a task. I told myself that I might do it the next time, when I’d had a chance to get my story straight.
From then on, every day, every moment I was awake, I was tempted to abandon the effort. My protest was futile. I was perched, ready to make my morbid confession. The ones my actions hurt were the ones who loved me. But I couldn’t admit there was nothing wrong with me. I had to pursue my course. In any case, the idea of going back—to the child, to my wife, to my job—seemed inconvenient and boring. If I could have just said, ‘I’m okay,’ and then they would have gone away, I would have done it.
They kept coming back for a while; my erstwhile family; and their faces all merged into one repulsive, identical sameness. They were as the politicians were: killing me with kindness; looking after me when I wanted to be left to thrive alone. They attempted to manage me, always seeming to give when really they were taking, taking everything I had. By now, I hated them. The old thought of confession was eradicated; I would speak only if I could formulate the perfect sentence of vengeance. But whenever I tried this, in my head, I only came across as bitter, or disturbed, or angry, or small, or pathetic; so I kept my words to myself.
Eventually I was taken to another place, where I saw a new doctor. It was only after I saw her the second time that I realized I had a doctor. I noted the flurry of faces that had surrounded me in the old place; so varied they were, so fleeting were our relationships. She spoke to me as though she expected me to reply; she made small talk, and told me about her day. The nurses spoke to me too sometimes, but mostly they spoke among themselves as if I wasn’t there. Sometimes nurses would say peculiarly private things to me, as if I couldn’t understand. It was an effort not to smile or laugh.
I was victim to a series of tests, which soured my good first impressions of my new staff. They hooked wires to me and showed me films of various genres; educational, pornographic, violent, sports. They observed me almost always. They put me in the MRI machine, stuck things in my ears, up my nose, down my throat, up my arse. I found it awfully embarrassing; I had a feeling of being somewhat in too deep. But, being in too deep, there was nothing for it but to endure it.
Nobody visited me anymore. I don’t know if they were prevented from doing so or if they had finally given up on me, or if they had sensed my increasing hostility.
One day, the doctor told me that I wasn’t ill and I was to be discharged immediately. I felt suddenly disconsolate; I wanted to tell her I loved her, I think. But I said nothing. They sent me to an apartment in a town I hadn’t been to before. They sat me down on an old brown couch opposite a big square television, turned it on and left. I saw the lawyer, he was outside a police station. But he still wasn’t under arrest; he was speaking on behalf of his client, the superintendent.
This was a day or two ago. Today, I received my first mail, a court summons. I have been charged with fraud for obtaining state benefits by deception; I am further charged with workshyness. I understand that these crimes are very serious, moreso now than even before my transition. I am relieved that they now agree that I am not mad, but I have no desire to speak with them. I feel that jail will be an appropriate place for me.