One early morning, the husband wakes in bed to find he has become an infant. The transformation does not shock him. Husbands and wives have been metamorphosing into their spouses’ greatest unfulfilled desires for months, and he always knew his wife wanted a baby. He is on his back, staring at the scalloped patterned ceiling. His adult pajamas rest under his naked body. When he breathes, he smells powder and vanilla on his blotchy, soft skin. He can feel his wife’s weight on the other side of the California King, sleeping soundly, and so he tries to call to her for help, but all he manages is, “Manf.” His motor skills have regressed. His limbs feel heavy. Despite his anticipation of this moment, it requires all of his concentration to flip onto his rotund belly, to plant his fingers on the mattress and wiggle toward his wife’s back. Over thirty-two years, he has forgotten the challenges of being a baby.
The husband pulls himself a foot before his wife rolls toward him, nearly crushing his body with a flailing arm and a waft of body odor. She settles into slumber while the husband pauses, mid-crawl, and takes in her own transformation. She still looks like his wife. Only she also looks nothing like his wife. A goatee circles her plump lips. And there’s a flat chest where her tiny breasts once hung. Her nightgown, hiked above her waist, reveals a bounding penis. Plus, the arm that narrowly missed him a second ago is covered in dark hair and tattoos. The husband stares at these tribal bands and flames. He panics, for he can place every mark to the various male bodies he has ogled from afar for years: the checkout guy, the gym rat, the runner who passes their house every Saturday.
Of all the unfulfilled desires bottled within the husband’s brain, the transformation before him is the one he feared the most. Last week, when his wife asked if he wanted to confess his yearnings so that she knew what to expect, he flatly said no. That he wanted them both to be surprised. Since then, he has tried to influence his cravings in hopes of avoiding this mess. He shunned working out. He dreamt the dirtiest straight fantasies he could conjure.
And she still became a man.
He collapses onto his belly. This should be amusing, like when his friend grew fur and became a greyhound. Sure, the husband has always considered other men attractive, yet he has found many things attractive during his lifetime: cartoon characters, several of his female neighbors.
The husband’s chin trembles. He shifts his glance from his wife (his father? his husband?) to the shaded bedroom windows. All that separates the world from his secret is a single blackout curtain. A lost strand of hair tangles in his hands. He wonders what his wife will think when she wakes. Without his ability to offer explanation. The fact is he truly loves her. She is his best friend. His companion. When the transformations started, they watched as neighbors brokered quick divorces. Only married couples were changing. But the husband and wife refused to entertain the idea. They had been together too long to live apart. His wife admitted she’d feel lost without him. But his wife may see her new incarnation as a betrayal of their commitment. A strike against the core idea of honoring one’s spouse. Why couldn’t she have turned into Firestar from Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, or changed ethnicities, as the husband also had a thing for Asian women? He wouldn’t have to find words to justify either of these for public acceptance. They could happily live as a family. Except nothing is that easy. The husband closes his eyes. He wishes his wife were not a man. He barters. Makes promises. He says he will devote his life to exotic causes, or become a fruitarian, or save the Mexican axolotls. He does everything in his power to return to sleep, to fall back into the world where transformations are fantasy.
Only his tiny heart is beating too fast to drift off. His lungs hum with short breath. After a few minutes, frustration sets in and the husband feels he may never fall asleep again.
He gives up and opens his eyes and finds his wife staring at his face.
She is awake.
She is still a man.
“Hello,” she says, almost in a whisper. Her eyes are red with tears. “Manf,” the husband replies, shocked. She reaches her arm over and gently strokes his head. She doesn’t say anything about the tattoos, or the goatee, or the penis. The husband bunches his brow as if to force out an apology, but his wife’s tender pats puncture the wail building in his lungs. At some point, will he forget his old self? Will his wife? He lets her—no, him—pull him close to his body. After this, they are both silent. They weep together until the bedding is wet and salty. These two new people. Then they rise.
Benjamin Woodard is a Senior Editor at Numéro Cinq Magazine and helps publish Atlas and Alice. His recent writing has been featured in Storychord, The Georgia Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and others.