Fiction · 07/06/2016

You and Then Some

There were a few after there was you.

Jill, her kisses tasted like kiwis. Not the green ones, but the sweet yellow kind, which she was allergic to, so maybe that’s why she tasted like them. When we kissed, I got itchy and thought it must be sympathy pain. Then it wasn’t just my skin, but my whole body, and it wasn’t sympathy, but that bug you had in your marrow that we all thought you took with you when you left.

You were the most becoming of outbreak monkeys. That bug you gave me? Dormant until I met Jill. It woke and popped freckles over my skin, washed out my brown eyes, and bent the soft curves of my bones into sharp angles. One day I woke up with long red hair and I wasn’t looking at myself in the mirror anymore, I was looking at her, at kiwi-lips.

As luck would have it, this was the week Jill broke it off. I’d become the woman I loved, but she chose a job, a secret job she’d applied for all the way over in New York, to leave me for. The aftertaste of kiwis lingered for months and I haven’t eaten one since.

I wandered alone in our shared lives. Most of our friends had seen me recently enough to know I was Vero. True, I still had my voice. I considered taking on Jill’s life, pretending to be her, then ruining her reputation and her credit, but I’ve never been good at being vicious, I just excel at the planning.

One morning mailing off the last of Jill’s things, good riddance, I met someone behind me in line at the post office. A new person to make my loins sputter, Felix. Felix had the most delicious neck tendons my teeth have ever nipped at. His skin was dark and reflective, his eyes laugh-lined.

And so it began again. My skin browned, my eyes deepened and crinkled at the edges. My chin stubbled-over and my throat bounced with his Adam’s apple. New things hung between my legs.

Still, I kept my voice. Felix being as narrow-waisted as Jill, I kept most of my clothes, too. I adjusted to peeing standing up, and, even now, I sometimes forget. We were happy until my change drove a curiosity through Felix that bled until he left me to find himself.

I tried very hard to leave my loneliness, not that it’s something to be rushed. I could not get over him, not as fast as he’d gotten over me.

I found Jamie.

Jamie, Jamie with his gossamer eyelashes. Jamie, Jamie with his incurably fragile ego. Jamie, Jamie, no, don’t, with his eager punches and abrupt I’m sorrys.

I was only half-him when I left, my hair his blond, but my skin still dark, and purpling over my left eye.

Then there was Caroline. That was when my voice finally changed and I acquired a tremor that rattled between convenience and desire.

Caroline was like me. So like me that she carried my face back to me, the resplendent, original Vero. But she carried me better than I had. She carried my portrait to remember me by after trying to leave, to go off to college, only to be called back by my face always asking “what if?” at her in the mirror.

Even without my Vero looks, Caroline recognized me. I did not remember her until she showed me photos of our seventh grade camping trip. She’d been in love with me for years, she said. From afar, she said. To keep the face that wasn’t hers, she’d chosen not to be inoculated against the bug. I was flattered. She was all smiles, so my mouth stretched to mimic what would have been hers. For a minute. But all she had of me was my head: the idea of me guillotined from reality. All she had to talk about was me, so who was she if she’d disappeared into me?

In my doubt, she doubted, and her face faded from mine into Caroline. I, too, changed into someone I had not seen in a long time. But I was not Caroline and I was not Vero._ Torso, ankles, chin_, I was you.

So I left. Your face asked me “what if?” in the mirror, too.

Skin, elbows, eye sockets. You are somewhere here in this town, but where? Everyone looks like you. Earlobes, kneecaps, sternum. Is there anyone you haven’t infected? I look and look and there is a you at a bar sipping Corona with a shot of blue curaçao. The you all the other yous are watching. I take a chance. “Do you remember me? From high school? They called me ‘Veronica Demonica.’ On Valentine’s Day senior year, I got suspended for pumping pigs’ blood into the drinking fountains and telling everyone it was red corn syrup. You called me ‘Vero Scaro Never Narrow’ and kissed me and ran away to here.”

“Grab your coat.”

You are not an impostor. Your voice is still sex and strychnine.

You have a car and I am not surprised that it’s red. You had a red one in high school, too, though this one is more sensible with its roof and four doors. You ask, “Does anyone back home still look like me?”

“No, not anymore. Just me now. Suddenly.”

“I wonder what that means.”

Funny. Me, too.

At your house, you take off all my clothes. Do you do this to everyone? Is this why everyone looks like you?

I turn off the lights. Even with your body, I’m still shy.

When you’ve kissed me in every possible spot and I’ve cried your name into all the pillows, we sleep. The sun comes up and pokes me in the eye. No, that’s you. Me?

“Vero Scaro.” You have my face.

In the bathroom, we stand nakedly next to each other and you touch our reflections in the mirror. “They said I was just a carrier. I’ve never looked like anyone else.” You cup my breasts. They look good on you.

“Again,” I say and we go back to bed with a frenzy.

Five months go by and you put the house on the market. We buy a new house in a new town where no one looks like anyone they aren’t. We put mirrors over the bed because we like to watch ourselves. Our kitchen is chrome, our furniture highly polished. Every surface reflects what has become of us.

My face is Vero now, yours is you again. Once in a while, your cheekbones lift. Or your jaw squares. Maybe a dimple punctures where it shouldn’t. When this happens, I press into you, saturating you with me, and paint out any others who want in.

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Kathryn Michael McMahon resides in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where she teaches preschool. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, Wyvern Lit, Devilfish Review, and A cappella Zoo, among others. She tweets @katoscope.