|The Transformation Story Archive||The Blind Pig|
I stopped and tried to catch my breath outside the hospital ward. Once, twice, three times I took in long, controlled breaths and then exhaled them slowly. I was in no fit condition to be out on a case, no fit condition at all. But duty had called, and I'd really had no choice.
"I know you're not qualified, Phil," the SCAB ward attendant had explained carefully. "But we've simply got no one else! It's just one of those crazy days when all hell has broken loose here. I've never seen so many cases go critical all at once!"
"But nothing! All you've got to do is sit with him for a few hours. That's all he's got left, you know. Just sit and be with him. You couldn't screw that up if you tried."
"I've sent a car," the harried voice continued right over my protests. "Phil, I owe you big time. Thanks!"
"But--" The receiver slammed down on my protests, and I sighed and began canceling my day's appointments. I've not been one to stand up for myself very well since the fur-and-ears thing happened, and am even less assertive when preoccupied with my own personal problems. Besides, I had reasoned to myself, the hospital staff was probably right. They needed the help, and if no one with the appropriate training was available, then I could serve as well as the next rabbit. It was my duty, even if I hated it.
Which was how I came to find myself standing outside a door that I really, really, really did not want to open. I breathed again, three more times, then pressed the release with my forepaw and stepped on inside. "Junior?" I asked.
"He-ere!" The voice was very blurred and indistinct; it sounded more like that of a machine than of a living thing. "He-ere!"
I smiled with my ears and looked as perky as possible; if I accomplished nothing else, I would not let even a trace of my own terrible pain show through, I swore silently. "Junior, my name is Phil. I work with Scabs sometimes."
"Pl-eased to meet you, Phil." He paused. "Tha-ank you for coming."
I nodded soberly. Junior had no family, and had simply requested that he not be left to die alone. This was not a request that could be easily refused, yet it would be so very, very hard. "It's the least I could do," I replied sincerely, hop-stepping over to the bed.
The insectile shape in the bed could not form facial expressions, nor could I make much sense of six-legged body language. But the emotions in his voice were unmistakable. "A-bout six o'clo-ck, they say."
There weren't many ways to answer that, really. "Is there anything you want?" I asked hopefully. "Anything in the world I can get for you?" I was prepared to move mountains, if needful.
"No," Junior answered wistfully. "Not un-less you happen to know where there is a female of my species."
I pressed my lips together. Mayflies, during their single day of adult life, are totally obsessed with the need to procreate. It's hard-wired into their brains. Junior was an imperfect morph, crippled and too fragile even to walk, much less fly and mate in mid-air. Otherwise I might have tried to find a polymorph for him. But obviously despite his physical limitations he could still dream. "Wrong season," I replied wistfully. "You just picked the wrong season."
The insectile head rocked back and forth a tiny bit in what I supposed might be laughter. "I am not sur-pri-sed, you know. It is the stor-y of my life."
I ear-rocked in reply, then sat down on the visitor's chair. Part of me wanted very badly to snuggle up to Junior, to show him with my own body how much I really, honestly cared about him in that moment. That was my own hard-wring as a mammal, showing, however. Not only would he never survive such rough treatment, as an insect the gesture would very likely mean nothing to him. In my sympathy, I'd rob him of what little time he had left, for nothing.
Presently he spoke. "It is such a won-der-ful day out-side!" he said, his voice suddenly full of cheer. "Ver-y warm for this time of year! They had the win-dow open for me, and the sun was out! It made rain-bows in my com-pound eyes, ev-er-y-where I looked! I nev-er saw an-y-thing so bea-u-ti-ful!"
"That's very nice," I replied.
"And I can talk now! I could not be-fore I me-ta-morph-os-ed. It was so ter-rib-le! I could not really touch an-y-thing, e-ven my thoughts were con-fus-ed. At least I'm a-live to-day, Phil!"
He was very brave, this one. "A friend of mine used to say that every day above ground is a good day."
"Ha-Ha-Ha!" On one level the laugh sounded terribly artificial. But by the way Junior jerked and wriggled about, I knew that deep down it was very genuine. "The birds sang outside my win-dow! There were clouds, and the cars on the street made nois-es. All of these things, can you im-a-gine how pre-cious they are? How much they can mean when you've been a grub for so long?"
"This day should be very special for you," I said softly.
"Oh, I wish I could mate!" Junior replied, wriggling again in frustration and pain. "If I could just mate and make good eggs, it would be worth it all."
I nodded, but said nothing. He was hitting far too close to home, as I'd just had my own love torn away. My own family laid to waste, my own deepest hopes scattered to the heartless winds.
"Are you sure, are you dead sure, are you to-tal-ly pos-i-tive that there are no others? Not an-y-where?"
"I've been told that every effort has been made," I replied honestly. Any attempt at mating would kill him anyway, I knew. Though if there had been any chance at all, I would have let him try had the choice been mine.
"Aaah!" Junior wailed in frustration and pain. "I've lived for naught! My life was no-thing!"
What could I say? What could I do? How does one reason with a mayfly? "Surely you've done some things you're proud of?" I prompted.
"Noth-ing!" he cried out angrily. "Noth-ing that com-pares to my fail-ure!"
"Don't blame yourself!" I cried out, "It's not your fault! For God's sake, you've only got this one day! Don't spend it dwelling on that which you cannot help!"
Then Junior laughed again. It was a very unpleasant sound. "Ha-ha-ha! You think it both-ers me that I have lived so lit-tle? Is that what it is? I tell you true, Rab-bit. Your life is but a day as well, in the great-er scheme of things. You will live and in the end die just like me. To the un-i-verse your span of years measures less than my single day is to your en-tire life-time. And yet I would bet that you think a-bout non-sense like 'liv-ing to a ripe old age' and 'a good long life'. The un-i-verse mocks us all, Rab-bit, you no less than me. My tra-ge-dy is not that I must die, but ra-ther that I need love so des-per-ate-ly and stand no chance what-so-ev-er of find-ing it be-fore I go."
It was as if my bones turned to jelly. My ears drooped, and before I knew it I was curled up on the floor wailing in pain. "I had love," I whispered eventually. "Wonderful joyous and perfect love. But she is gone. She chose another."
The mayfly laid silent for a long time. "I am ver-y sor-ry" he answered eventually.
"They say that it is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It may look that way to you, even. But they lie! They lie!" By then I was openly weeping. "My family, my beautiful little family that was the center and purpose of my life is as dead as if we had all been killed in a car wreck. I'd have given everything, my very life for it. But she chose another! She let our family die for him! Our whole world! And in truth," I wailed, "I cannot even understand why!"
"At least," the mayfly mused, "At least I have been spared that."
I should have gotten up, excused myself, and left. A professional counselor never, ever loses control over himself; you learn that real early in the game. But I'd been pushed too far, and forced into a situation for which I was not prepared by any standards. For a very long time I laid there on the floor and wept in near-silence as the sun sank low in the sky and the room began to darken. And then eventually I remembered where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. Wave after wave of guilt washed over me; was he gone? Was I already too late? "Junior?" I asked aloud.
His voice sounded very weak, but hearing it at all came as a tremendous relief to me. "I'm very sorry. I should have been better company."
"Ha-ha-ha!" he laughed in his bitter tones. "You have been i-deal com-pan-y, Phil. A day and a lifetime are one and the same in the end, when lived with-out love. I lie here in ang-uish, my ver-y soul scream-ing out for a mate. I die dep-riv-ed, in-com-plete, empty. We are soul-mates, blood-broth-ers under the skin. Our lives are point-less. I can-not cry an-y-more; thank you so ver-y much for doing it for me. It was per-fect." He paused, then spoke with real feeling. "God-damn this un-i-verse that has love in it!"
"Amen," I replied. For the two of us, this was a sacred and heartfelt prayer. Though others might not understand.
And then the sun was down, and it was six o'clock. There was nothing left to lose, I hugged Junior tight. "Oh, God!" I whispered. "This is so unfair!"
"Men have died since the very be-gin-ning of things," Junior said reassuringly. "I am not the first to know the ap-point-ed hour, nor am I the first to ev-er die with-out love."
I thought that I'd run out of tears, but then again I'd thought the same thing many, many times before over the last few weeks. Once again, I was wrong. "Don't die, Junior!" I blubbered. "Fight it! Fight against it!"
"Ha-ha-ha!" Junior laughed ironically. "I am a may-fly. I live to love, and then to qui-et-ly die. That is all. At least I shall not fail at..."
I waited a very long time for Junior to finish his sentence, but in time I realized that he never would. Mayflies have no eyelids to lower, so very quietly I left his room and for once walked all the way home, gladly accepting the dangers of street predation rather than face the pain of human company. That night I snuggled very tight with Shortcake and the General, trying to pretend that they were someone else and failing utterly in the attempt.
And when sleep finally came I dreamt of mayflies, floating open-eyed and lifeless on a still, still pond.
Hard Wiring copyright 2001 by Phil Geusz.
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