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Sick and Sin
or: The Second Failed Baptism of Miss Marybeth Prowse
You know, the funny thing is is that, left to my own devices, I could take or leave the whole ocean business.
Hosses ain't accustomed to the water. W'enever I say that (yes, I'm occasionally going to be writing this in a faint approximation of my own goddamn accent, please go off and fuck yourself) I get this picture of the Spaniards or whoever the hell carting their lovely horses over on the Santa Maria, (students of history who now raise hands in protest, please follow the previous group) off to show the Indians so that they could make some more horses for themselves and subsequently go off and get bit parts in John Wayne movies. All well and good, but what about those damn horses _while_ they were aboard ship? Probably pretty pissed off. Hosses don't _like_ water, not the deep stuff, I would figure. I don't know shit about horses, so I'm just going out on a limb saying that. In fact, intellectually, I think that's wrong, but, ya know, I'd really, really _like_ to believe that this darkness that clouds around me is some SCAB-Species Specific thing, my "animal brain" reacting badly to being out here on the open ocean, on the deck of a research vessel, just far enough out into the Atlantic to do what we have to do today. Because if it were just my Big Red Mare side acting up, of course, I could use it as a handy-dandy vacuum-packed excuse for the way that I feel, today.
"Bacteria!" Says Anne, her eyes gleaming like pot-coals.
"Mm hm." I say.
"Bacteria! Algae tubeworm geothermal Vent sulphur Fish!"
"Mm hm." I say.
"Water! Dive snorkel ship! Cameras! Seafloor Biotic Mass sand silt gravel Mapping!"
"Mm hm." I say.
Sometimes, I just have to let the technospeak flow on by. Just nod the old head, Mm hm, w'tever you say, sweetbuns. She _knows_ I can't follow her when she talks like this. She's doing this for herself, of course. She's as nervous as all hell, and damn, she has a right to be. All that sheyit she's had to swallow from the lowbrow pig-eyed, squid-faced Navy bastards who've put Anne through Hell and back...
"Almost... Crayfish-like! But... not!"
"Neat." I say. Anne sits there, eyes glowing, watching as they lower her damned submarine into the water. It's _that_ thing that's taking her away from me. Sure, she'll be back, for her two-week breaks every two months. Hon, if you're looking for constant contact, don't let your lesbian lovers grow up to be research submarine pilots. Let 'em be doctors an' lawyers an' such. Don't let 'em sign on for two years of the damndest shit-whole male-dominated training that _man_ has ever devised. _Man_ likes to keep his toys to himself. _Man_ doesn't like to let women-folks like Sweetbuns play with 'em. And the biggest little toy in existence in the field of Sub-Marine Research is the _Proteus_.
"_Proteus!_ Top-of-The-Line! New Technology! Deep Sonar Array! Cryotic Low-Dissipation Telemetry! Satellite Hookup!"
You'd think she was off fucking this guy Proteus. But Proteus ain't a guy; It's a submarine, _the_ submarine. Time was, the _Alvin_ was the bill of fare. Nautical perfection, she was, if Anne is to be believed. New trench to explore? Send the _Alvin!_ New little squiggly tube-worms to take Dark FMV of? Send the _Alvin!_ It slices, it dices, it makes the goddamn shoestring potatoes that drive the Chilluns wild. Trouble is that one day, good old _Alvin_ got sent out on one mission too many; in exchanging the crew, somebody accidentally flooded the compartment or something, and _Alvin_ sank, unmanned, uncrewed, into the dark, fluid depths, never to be seen by daylight again. Just a mistake. Ten thousand possible mistakes to be made, every single goddamn dive. Anne assures me that the crew was never in any danger. I said, "They better'nt have been."
So. They _could_ have dredged the damn thing up. But the old girl was finally starting to feel her age, after half-a-century (or more) of dedicated use. When the budget folks finally stopped punching their calculators it was finally, finally decided to lay the thing to rest in its deep, wet grave and start anew from scratch. The result: The _Proteus._
A Greek Sea-God, or so my classics profs told me. That's the reason they chose it, of course.
The irony completely escaped them that "Proteus" was _also_ one of the ancient world's Master Shapeshifters, if you believe the myths.
The irony completely escaped them, for the simple reason that they did not yet know about Hannah "Anne, Please" Merle, a.k.a. "Sweetbuns", Young Hopeful Oceanographer, _WOMAN_, card-carrying Outed Lesbian, formerly a member of a presumed-extinct Marsupial Predatory race, now something half-homid and _wholly_ human. Oh, and she's got cute stripes on her butt. She's had her shape shifted around quite a fucking bit; so have some others ah'us, of course. The fact that she does not have perfect bodily control in continuing to shift her shape around is one of some potential concern to her and her naval cohorts.
"Look at this thing!" She says, motioning at her tail with a moroseness that can only be coming from her continuing bouts with nerves here on the edge of her ultimate triumph. I, by contrast, am feeling more at ease; we're back to a topic that I feel comfortable with, that being, commenting on Anne's anatomy. She has cute anatomy.
"We hardly have room enough in there for _ourselves_, much less this thing!" She continues.
"Your tail's one a' the cutest parts of you." I comment.
"Yes..." She says, petulantly. "But it's too big! They didn't build the _Proteus_ with 'morphic humans in mind."
In fact, they almost kept her from diving _because_ of that tail. Apparently, the cabin of that thing is so goddamn small that _anything_ taking up extra space is frowned upon.
But that wasn't the real reason, of course. The real reason is that to become certified to operate the damn thing, she had to become the civilian equivalent of a Navy Submarine Captain. Which meant dealing with the goddamn male-dominated research community of Woods Hole.
Yes, I'm bitter. When your girlfriend comes crying to you night after night following display after display of misogynistic bigotry, you tend to get soured on the whole concept pretty quickly. I was on the verge of hauling her _out_ of the goddamn Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute half-a-dozen times. But she insisted. She _needed_ to do this. _Needed_ it. And her eyes became beatific pot-coals again and those damn pot-coals wormed 'emselves into my big, barreled red-horse-haired chest and melted my old Dutch-Oven-Black Cynic's heart into Silly Putty, trademark.
So we buckled down for the whole, long ride. Her, all tragic an' forlorn, Me, ready to kick peoples' collective Navy Asses, day in an' out.
And this, after _years_ of training, is the result. Anne's first real, live all-by-herself-all-grown-up dive in the driver's seat of that thing. _At the Controls._
I am so fucking proud of her, and I say that without a single molecule of my traditional Southern-Belle Pissy Angst.
Anne squeezes my hand. "I love you." She says. She snipey-grins at me. I horsey-grin at her. I squeeze her hand. It's like a palindrome.
We watch as the hoist carrying the _Proteus_ lets her into the water. She's a busy-looking creature, not possessed of the sleek, porpoiselike shape that we normally associate with the concept of "submarine." Every inch of her frame is packed with this doohickey or that thingamabob, giving her a cluttered, friendly appearance, even on the outside, the whole somewhat reminding me of a frantically businesslike but nonetheless hospitable housewife. It's a comforting sight in an otherwise moody landscape. For some reason--known to everyone on this mothership save little old me--they let the sub go _first_, and then Anne and her two accompanying passengers hop in the water after it. This isn't a real mission, of course. More like a last, formal runthrough of the entire procedure before Anne Darling goes off around the fucking world, away from Massachusetts, away from everything that is and represents _me_, off running errands for the Oceanographic community of the entire Western Hemisphere.
She'll be back up and with me in just slightly over two hours. But I know, and she knows, that once she makes that dive, it means, essentially, that my time with her goes on short rationing.
Two months. No contact.
Then, two weeks of vacation. Hassled and hussled, mostly submerged in dealing with the daily paperwork and bustle that the world itself requires. Hopefully, some sex. But not a whole lot. There is no rest for the driven, and Dearest Anne is so driven she could almost've come offa the General Motors main factory floor.
Hopefully, some sex. Did I mention that?
Then... back away. For two more whole months.
Repeat. _For Years_.
I love her.
If I loved her any less, 'ah don't think I would put up with it, feisty bitch that I am.
Anne's all prepared. She's got her wetsuit on an' everything. I have (ahem) demanded this moment with her before the single most important achievement of her life. "They" gave me the exasperated looks that "They" always give me. Fuck them, fuck them all. I know who matters to me.
The deep, black water laps and touches the rough, lionfish-esque shell of the _Proteus_.
Soon, Anne will follow her into that deep, black water.
Down, way down into the darkness.
Down in the dark that has claimed, into its alien, heartless depths, the _Alvin_, and the _Lusitania_, and the _Titanic_ and the fucking _Pequod_ while we're at it.
Down into the darkness.
Shit. I don't believe this. I'm about to cry. I _never_ cry.
I don't fucking believe this. I don't. I don't.
And when she comes up...
Well. What happens to her is what happens to everyone who gets ducked under water, into the chaotic blackness of the Deep. She dies. And when she comes up, she will be borne anew. My love. Captain of the _Proteus_. One of only a medium-sized roomful of individuals _ever_ to be certified to operate a sub of her class.
And only the third woman.
And the very first goddamn SCAB.
I'm so fucking proud of her.
Everyone who goes down into the water comes up reborn.
But some of us just can't even get to the point of starting. Like Ginger, good ol' Ginger, for example. A.K.A. good ol' Marybeth Prowse, the sturdy, blonde-haired blue-eyed woman that I used to be before I became, simply, "that one big horse-chick."
Marybeth Prowse. It's been a long time since anyone's used that, exclusively, to describe me.
I find myself wondering exactly how and where it started. Not with SCABS, certainly. The virus was just a catalyst. The seeds had been planted much, much earlier. I wonder...
Ohno. Shit. Here I go again.
I don't. I can't. I _mustn't_...
* * *
Amy died, I believe. This is how it starts.
She died. Let these words fall like heavy machine-tools in the tin box of your mind. Shake them, shake 'em _hard_. And hear the sounds that they make.
Hear 'at? Dull. Dull, black sounds. They aren't even words, when you come right down to it. They don't even mean anything. They can't. They just can not.
I don't believe it. I mean this in the most literal of all senses.
Death is _not_ a reality to a high-school Sophomore. It cannot be. One cannot be chatting amiably to someone after First Period Band and then have them, less than twenty-four hours later, cease to be. It is _NOT_ _FUCKING_ _POSSIBLE_.
I do not even cry. Because it never happened.
On the event of the death of my best friend in the whole wide world, Momma called me in sick for the rest of the week. Momma always thinks of that sort of thing. Nobody at the school gave her any shit, either. Nobody gives Momma no shit. C'ept maybe Pappa, a'course, but nobody else does. Not any of us kids, of course, but also, not anyone from the school. Not anyone from the Government even. The family lore is particularly fond of the time that Momma feisted her way out of a Tax Audit. Two hours in the parlor with Momma, and Momma wasn't showing them any receipts, either. She was _feisting_. I'll be damned (sorry) if the folks from the Government didn't leave looking even a little bit ashamed of themselves for having bothered Momma at all. Momma sticks up for us. She always does.
It isn't even possible that Amy is dead.
I can't even _start_ to let the word "suicide" enter my head. Of course, that's what it was. But it wasn't. Because she's not even dead. Thoughts swirl, and never reach resolution. I can not believe that she's _gone._
This is why we have religion, of course. Partially. To ease the pain of things being dead. To allow us to _resolve_ this state of chaos, bring things back into proper order. Our heads aren't strong enough, most of the time, to accept the notion of nonexistence. She's gotta be alive... somewhere.
I find it almost humorous in a way that my prissy, intellectual spirit that has (quietly, internally) bucked the Church throughout my entire free-thinking life is now huddling back to it, bawling and sobbing.
There are words in those sobs, of course. I will do anything for You. I am sorry for the times that I mocked You, accused You, fought Your authority. I'll come to services better. I'll listen really hard during the homily. I'll pray, damn it, I'll pray _hard_. An hour a day. _Two_ hours a day. I'll do anything you need.
Just tell me she's not dead.
Amy. Amy Amy Amy. Maybe if I say her name enough. Amy Amy Amy Amy. It's all a misunderstanding anyway. She's not _dead_.
She _didn't_ commit sui--
Oops, there's that word that can't be there.
Amy Amy Amy Amy. I know, empirically, that she is not dead. It is quite out of the question. Of course she was sick. But it wasn't bad sick. She was even at school, just a little congestion. We joked about it. How hard it was to play the clarinet properly when your nose was all plugged up with snot. We laughed, for God's sake. First period. Band. People who make snot jokes in first period _don't_ collapse in Seventh period, their insides torn to bloody shreds, vomiting up bits of themselves, hacking and spitting to the floor shards of flesh that _no longer belong_. Pretty young girls-- no, young _women_, because we are, practically adult an' everything, young _women_ don't thrash around on the rough, utilitarian carpeting of room 209 growing a ragged, broken pelt of animal fur before the gaping mouths and shocked eyes of their Social Studies class. Women, proper women, young, attractive, popular women with good school records and scads of extracurriculars to their name don't _do_ that sort of thing.
She... ran. Away. Clawing everything, everyone in her path. Straight from the campus, a beeline, in fact, right back to her home. She was an arrow, a compass point, a vector focused on that medicine chest in her parents' upstairs bathroom. There were no obstacles for her mad run. No one could even keep pace.
The school called her parents, naturally, when every effort to restrain Amy herself failed. They, in turn, rushed home from the city as soon as they could. No one even thought to call an ambulance, pre-emptorily, in the turmoil. No one, I think, thought that she would go so far, so quickly, without any warning. Time of death: 3:36 P.M. Her parents were not there when she died. Amy missed her beloved softball practice that evening.
This sort of thing doesn't happen. I know, factually, that it can not.
Temporarily Snot-nosed Amy. Beautiful, wonderful, giggly sleep-over Amy. The one woman who could best me at the clarinet. The only woman who ever challenged my primacy at the piano.
Amy, who quietly, for the very first time, at lunch period (chicken patties), less than four hours from her death, idly snuffling into Kleenices, in one of the closed, quiet practice-rooms of the Band Hall, admitted to me, alone, that, very possibly, she thought that she wasn't "attracted" to men, in fact, very possibly, the opposite.
"'You're not attracted to men, in fact, very possibly the opposite?' What, you're... repulsed by them?"
"No." She says, quietly, staring at me.
A nervous giggle. The L-word hangs heavy in the air, unrealized, unspoken.
"Jay-sus." I say, our sudden tension breeding more giggling.
It was about to go farther, but unfortunately, that's where it ended, because Jordy barged into the room in that way that he habitually does, and then it was only five minutes to the bell, and _shit_, I forgot to do my Algebra paper, and oh well, wasn't _this_ quite a racy and scandalous topic to bring up, and we'll have plenty of time to discuss it at lunch _tomorrow_...
Tomorrow where I would have told her, in shyness and giggling, that I, me, very possibly, might speculate about considering that _I felt the very same way..._
Over the hours, Amy begins to be more firmly dead in my mind. And my prayers grow more fervent.
Please. I know she's dead. I just don't want her to be gone.
* * *
Hours upon hours later, my Momma is again in my room. I am crying to her, telling her, talking to her, expressing, stressing, venting, bawling, wetting her shoulder with my tears. Everything comes out. Everything... excepting, of course, that last lunchroom talk...
(I was the first one... she didn't tell anyone else...)
(Nobody else has to have their memory of her spoiled...)
"It's not your fault." She's saying. "Hon, I _know_ you feel like there maybe was something you could've done, if you had just said one word differently, or been at a different place, or... well, I don't know, you probably come up with a _lot_ of stuff in your brain. I'm gonna tell you, Mary, hon, that although it hurts, maybe, to say so, there wasn't nothing you could've been 'spected to do."
(_I_ haven't told anyone at _all_...)
I cry some more. She holds me tight. Momma.
She's silent for a long time. Momma always knows when to be silent. When to just let me cry some.
"I know you're feeling lost and scared right now, Mary. And I want to ease your mind, and tell you that nothing like this is ever gonna happen to any of your friends any more. Prolly you're wondering now, if your friend Amy wasn't constant, couldn't be trusted, who of 'em _can_ be, right?"
I nod, still sobbing.
"I wish I could tell you that, Mary. But if you're wondering who, out of everybody, everyone, can be trusted, lemme tell you, you got someone _right_ at hand who's never gonna leave you, always gonna be there for you, and when and if you turn away, they's always gonna be ready to take you back home."
"You?" I murmur, through my tears, confusedly.
She just smiles, until, a few seconds later, I realize my mistake and signal my realization by nodding.
"I _been_ praying, Momma." I say.
"Good." She says. "When you need answers, there's no better place to look."
I nod, still weepy-eyed. And for one, final moment, I am suffused with my Momma's love. The umbilical cord is still there. I am truly at peace, and I thank God for bringing me to that peace, God acting directly through my Momma.
"I only _wish_ your friend Amy would've had enough sense in her head to do that."
There is something odd about the tone that makes me raise my head.
"Mary, promise me that if God ever seeks to correct _you_ in your sin that you won't... do that."
"What?" I say, muzzily, almost childishly, roused from an afternoon nap.
"If God ever tries to demonstrate your sin to you by opening your eyes with an infirmity of that kind, please, see it as a _loving_ act on the part of God. Not as a punishment. God _wants_ to see us repent from our sins, freely, all by our lonesomes, but sometimes, we require a little reminder of how much, really, we rely on Him. And it is through his _love_ that he gives us these corrections, just as it is through your own father's love that he corrects you."
I blink at my tears, which have suddenly become greasy, like cold oil. A small crack opens in my stomach.
"What... sin?" But I know. Oh God, I know...
She smiles, sadly at me.
"I don't know, Marybeth. Maybe, possibly, only Amy could have put a name to her sin. Maybe she tried to deny the Godlessness of her behavior, even to herself, and maybe, God, in his love, tried to remind her of her duties by visiting that affliction upon her. Maybe she held her sin close to herself. Marybeth, please, again, don't blame yourself. You probably didn't even know. In fact," she smiles, "I _know_ you, of all people, would have corrected her if you had known of her sin. So don't you worry there."
The crack widens to a cleft. Then a pit. Which grows, and grows. Momma presses on, urgently, compassionately. The words just pour out of her. She means them in love. She _believes_ in the love of her words. But in my wide-eyed despair, they clot in my stomach like stale pastry.
"Amy took the fool's way out." Says Momma. "She saw only horror in the loving act of God, horror at a thought of a life fighting off the ignorance of the beast that had come into her. What she didn't _understand_ was that the ignorance of the beast was _already_ in her, in her sin. God was simply making it manifest in her body. And in His doing so, she was faced with the shame of whatever sin it was that God sought to root out in her."
Momma shakes her head sadly, and continues with her diatribe. This is hardly even a Momma I recognize; she's talking like she never talks for anything else. "Instead of turning to God for help, she sinned again in the taking of her own life, angrily trying to wrest control back from God. Such rebellion is not unlike the rebellion that ended up casting Adam and Eve from the Garden, Mary." The words keep coming, and coming, and coming, floodin' out of her with sickly-warm concern, almost like she's up in th' pulpit like Father Hugh on Sundays.
Momma's voice rises, almost in fervor. "Please, please promise me that if God corrects you, for _anything_, that you will turn back to God instead of culminating your sin and rebellion against God by the taking of your own life."
I just stare at her, wide-eyed.
"Mary?" She asks, quietly.
"I won't." I say, not even whispering.
* * *
Naturally, I rather quickly got myself a man.
He was Chris. He was almost as tall as me (no mean feat), a bit stockier than me (ditto) and was possessed of blonde hair (like me), blue eyes (like me), a well-to-do, middle-class, God-Fearing Family (like me) and, of course, a penis. He played football and was mediocre at it in the way that people like him are. He was pleasant, nice, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. I wished, somewhere deep down, that I would have been unable to stand him, but, alas, I could. On the other hand, although I _could_ have cared less about him, it would have taken experimental surgery. But through it all, I was convinced that I was doing the right thing.
I treated him like shit. I treated Chris like shit in the name of doing right by God, I deceived him and cheated him and lied to him, all because it would make me better in the eyes of God. Chris and his goddamn penis. Wasn't his fault, he was born with the damn thing. Everybody loved Chris. Momma loved Chris. Pappa loved Chris. All the swarms of brothers and sisters, all of em, loved Chris. Hell, I loved him too. But not in the way that I tried to convince myself that I had to love him.
To wit: if Chris didn't have a penis, I wouldn't have felt any obligation to be attracted to him at all.
But he did. So I simpered, and saccharined, wondering what was wrong with _me_ that I couldn't open up to Chris, and I looked everywhere and tried to change everything... everything, of course, but that which I had utterly, absolutely, ruled out, completely, nope, nada, out of the question. And my tensions ebbed and swelled and during the swells I abused Chris and he would cry to me and I had to drag up some true, but irrelevant, reason why he had hurt me, and he'd look at me with big puppy-eyes and swear he'd never hurt me again, and so on. It was a farce, but none of us could see that.
I'm happy, in retrospect, that _It_ happened when it did. If not, I might have been well on my way to becoming Missus Christopher Sharpe by now, if not there already. _It_ was probably the best thing to happen in his life. Maybe he's off, happy, in a relationship that suits him more than ours suited me. I wish him well.
_It_ is a time that comes to every one of us SCAB-folks, by definition. Some of us remember our _Its_. Some of us do not. I have heard of how some individuals, in a comatic or stupefied state throughout the entire process of _It_ awake from their slumbers, dazed and confused, with a tenuous grip on reality because of the inevitable neuronal shuffling that occurs as part and parcel of _It_. These individuals, suddenly realizing that they also have to cope with a completely new home for their consciousnesses, and being already confused and brain-waggled, sometimes take _months,_ _years_ to return to their proper grip on reality, spending the intervening time in a disoriented, schizophrenic dream-state.
Still, I think I would have preferred to be asleep.
It happened at the worst of all possible times. After one of the inevitable fits that Chris and I always got into. But not just any fit. A fit that had, in its severity, shaken the very fundamentals of my thoughts. I had been trying for years to love Chris. Trying with every bit of psychic muster I could scrape up. Beating with the hammer of my will upon the solid wall that kept me from true, honest love. And I had failed. Again.
It left me questioning.
The L-word was floating around there. Again.
And it wouldn't go away.
I worked, then, the first summer out of graduation, in a resin mill. A sort of embryonic-plastics way-station. "Good" summer job. Mediocre pay. Extremely boring. Every high-school or post-high-school student aspiring towards anything has one of these, so I don't imagine that I need to go into too many specifics on what it was like to work there. Here's the basics. Take chunks of raw plastic, put them in the shredder, watch blandly as the machinery reduces them to a more useful granular form. Repeat, over and over and over and over. Tack a few more overs on there. Got it? Good.
The fit in question between Chris and myself had lasted late into the past evening, far into the hot night. I awoke, dreamy and feverish, my mouth tasting of charcoal.
Lesbian. From the very morning, the word was there, taunting me. It had company. Deceiver. Putter-up-of-falsehoods. Holder, and this was the kicker, of Sinful Desires. Desires that had gotten Amy in Deep Shit with God. Rationally, I had been trying to explain away Amy's death as some drastic coincidence, that it couldn't _possibly_ have been the case that Amy's sudden, violent contraction of SCABS was some sort of divine smack across the backside, just like Pappa used to do with his old leather strop. I didn't _want_ to hate God for what He had, presumably, done to Amy, but the only way I could work around it was to say that it was all a huge unrelated mishmash of events. But I was caught. My relationship with Chris was souring, in my own belly, more and more, every day. My own guilt about lying to Chris, every new day that I saw him, was gnawing at the hard calcium of my spine like a rat chewing on a salt-block. And yet, to ease Chris's mind would be to profess rebellion against God. And so, I had come to the realization that I would just, in the future, have to try _harder_ to love Chris. As though if I were to try hard enough, someday, I would get a breakthrough.
Momma thought I looked a little ill at the breakfast table. Truth tell, I did feel a bit ill. But I had been up real late last night. And I'd been under a lot of stress. Just a little bug. Pass the (rats gnawing at the spine, you are a lesbian, marybeth, no, that's _wrong_, momma would tell you that it's wrong, _everybody_ knows it's wrong) sugar, please, maybe get some more (you are a _sinner_, marybeth prowse, for holding these thoughts, for fantasizing about them, for, god save your sick, broken soul, _masturbating_ to them) juice from the fridge, better hurry, thanks for packing my (poor chris, how the hell can i justify hurting him over and over and over and) lunch, whoops, look at the (everybody, sing along with me, damned if you do, damned if you don't...) time, better get to (sinner... sinner... sinner...)
(SINNER... SINNER... SINNER... SINNER...)
For four hours, eight to twelve, I shredded raw plastic with a wrath that was terrible to behold. I put names onto that which I destroyed, carved imaginary letters upon the blobby hunks of extruded resin before condemning them to be ripped asunder, broken, and decimated. They were my brothers, and my sisters, and Momma, and Pappa, and Chris, and Amy, and...
And when I ran out of all of those, over and over, the only name I could see again and again upon the doomed non-faces of the resin hunks was mine own. Marybeth Prowse. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Sinner. Sinner. Marybeth Prowse. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Sinner. Sinner.
Torn apart, ripped into non-existence.
By the end of the morning shift, I no longer felt like eating the lunch that my mother had so carefully packed. I was shivering, and nauseous. Someone... I forget who... said that I was looking kind of rough. That maybe I should be calling in sick for the afternoon shift. But the work was the only thing keeping me going, keeping me sane. Without plastic to destroy, I was nothing. And yet, at the same time, I was destroying my own name. Over and over. But it was all that I could do. Over and over and over and over again.
The afternoon shift began.
Thirty-seven minutes in, _It_ began to happen.
My fever skyrocketed, and my brain began thudding. My face flushed with red heat, but all I could feel was cold. Cold, willowy cobwebs, brushed across my face, passing into my brain, rolling my eyes, up and back. I wanted no part of it. I had to work. I had to destroy, to release my anger. Shred. Tear. Destroy. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner.
I gritted my teeth. My hands on the shredding lever were like iron.
_It_ began in my chest. Coiling and cracking my ribs, pushing, tearing. I was dizzy, and nearly falling over, and I was not, of course, at the pinnacle of consciousness. So I couldn't notice.
My face ached. Sinuses flared, clogged with fluid... more so than I had ever felt. So much so that the bones began to ache with the pressure of containing it. And... then... it seemed as though the bones around the sinuses began to yield, somehow, to the feverish humors therein. Sudden cracks burst through my skull like fireworks. Fragile arches of bone were shattered into flinders, new structures replacing them, dripping miasmically from the diseased bone.
My hands remained on the lever. Shredding. More and more. I began to lose the distinction between myself and the plastic. We were both being rent and riven; it, ground into granules by the steel embrace of the shredder, me, torn chest to girth with wet ripping sounds like a fryer chicken.
I think it was at this time that I was _noticed_ by the other workers. I am not certain. I recall... something of a commotion. Presumably, no one wanted to come near me. I was left in a feverish, clear bubble of my factory-floor-mates, and I was being reduced to sharp, bloody shards of myself.
Of course, my clothes were destroyed soon thereafter, seams burst by the process of my change, but by that time, it was just a detail. There was nothing sexual about my form. It was grotesque, half-melted, burning, prickling with patchy reddish horse-hair. Wet, bloody clots of my old hair dropped from my scalp, in damp puddles around me. My toes jerked and cracked, pushed out of my heavy boots, my center digit growing large and ponderous, the others retreating beneath the skin into vestigial pin-bones. My hips hung at an absurd angle, and the crude, obscene nub of a tail began to show.
My hands still clutched the lever. My job was still being done.
The commotion grew around me, to a roar of hysteria. It was drowned out in my head by the turbulent rattle of my skull bones breaking and re-fusing, breaking and re-fusing, my brows becoming heavier, eye sockets twisting to the side with wrenching whines. My new horse's muzzle tore itself into shape. Load after load of resin, screaming against the iron blades, spitting, because of my improper usage, sharp flinders of plastic everywhere. One lodged itself deep within the thick bone of my lateral skull, and to my knowledge, it is still there.
The last things to go were my hands. By the near end of it all, I was a mare, fully and totally, a massive beast comically clinging with woefully out-of-place fingers to the rubber-gripped lever. The feed had stopped, shut down by a panicked employee, and no plastic was even coming into my area. But still, the shredder whined on.
Through my willpower, my hands remained hands for probably five whole more minutes, shredding air, and sound, and nothingness.
Then, they too went to hooves, and at that moment, Marybeth Prowse died a quick, silent death.
I ran, then. I was still bereft of my senses, there was nothing in the world to do _but_ to run, bowling over those still too stunned and shocked to move as I went. Away, down the corridors of the plant, out into sunlight, and the road that followed.
Momma's daughter went to work that day. But she never came back.