by Rey-Philip Genaldo
You hate what she’s become. It’s two in the morning and she’s just come home from who knows where and woken you up to show you. You’re sitting on the edge of your bed and she’s standing there in that doorway, just looking at you like she owes you no explanation, with her hip out to the side, with her hand on it. The clothes she’s wearing: a black crop top exposing her bare midriff and tight pair of black jeans, like it’s the nineties again. She wasn’t even born yet, in the nineties. It’s the thirties, and you know she’s not wearing that short shirt for fashion. She’s showing off her new stomach.
Those are your mother’s clothes, you say.
I know, she says. I found them in her closet. They fit me perfectly.
She’s right: they do. In fact, the resemblance is striking.
I don’t even know you anymore, you want to say. What have you become, Sami?
Remember way back when it was the nineties? Back when you were young. Yeah sure you rebelled against your parents too, but what was the worst you could do back then? Kids these days don’t get tattoos anymore. They get body replacements. Like you used to do to your car. One summer, you saved up to put a spoiler on your Honda Civic. Nowadays kids save up to put new eyes into their heads. New brains. There’s just so much more at stake now. You want to tell her that. You want to tell her that it’s not just her body; it’s her humanity too.
Why can’t you just get your belly button pierced? you say.
She touches her shiny new mid-section, polished and silver. If she made a fist of her hand and knocked on it, it would make a sound like knocking on a refrigerator door.
Oh Sami, you say.
You know how long she must’ve kept this secret from you. The hospital used to be a place people avoided. These days there’s a line out the door and you’ve got to wait two months to get in. You know this because you looked into getting augmentations yourself once: a fact that Sami uses in her defense.
She says: Don’t forget, dad, you were obsessed with this stuff too!
You’ve never argued with your daughter like this before, so you’re not sure what kind of father you are. Are you the soft type who listens and carefully addresses his child’s argument? Or are you the hard type who ignores her words.
It’s not safe, you say.
Apparently you’re the hard type.
In frustration, Sami flails her arms upward like whips cutting air.
What would your mother think? you say.
Sami says: Mom would’ve loved it!
She’s right. Charli would’ve loved it.
It was exactly that type of procedure that took mom from us, you say.
This shuts Sami up, if only for a little while.
There are noticeable lumps bulging from underneath her new chassis. Inner-scaffolding, it’s called. She’s not done yet with the procedure. Two, maybe even three more visits to go.
You sigh. You rub your head. You groan and sit down.
What’s done is done, you think. You resign yourself to your child’s new body.
Eventually you ask her what she augmented.
My stomach, she says.
What about it? you ask.
Sami’s face lightens with a smile. You’re showing interest rather than resentment; this is all she wants, really.
She’s still self-conscious. She puts her hands over her new chassis as if she is with child.
She says: I can control nutrient intake.
You scratch your head and ask her what that means, even though you already know.
She says: Whatever I eat, the nutrients pop up on my heads-up display and I can choose what I want and don’t want to absorb.
So you have new eyes, too?
You cringe as though this knowledge is causing you physical pain.
Of course, she says. I need new eyes for the new stomach. Duh, dad.
You are still sitting, and now your daughter leaves the doorway and walks to you.
It’s still heavy, she says, her hands still over her new stomach.
She continues on about the perks of her augmentation, but you are barely listening. She tells you about how she can eat all the sweets she wants and not have to worry about diabetes. She tells you about how she has complete control over her weight and body shape now. She can drink as much as she wants, she tells you, then flush the alcohol from her system and drive home perfectly sober.
You used to worry about me getting home, she says. Now you don’t, dad. I’ll never be drunk again! Not uncontrollably, at least.
Uncontrollably, you echo absently.
She is standing over you now, and she leans in to give you a hug. Sitting, you are at her stomach’s height, and as she reaches around to embrace you, you see your reflection there in the polish of her new abdominal plate. The closer she closes in, the wider your reflection expands, and suddenly it is touching your face, you and your reflection cheek to cheek, and you are pressed against that cold surface as your daughter clasps and pulls and tightens.
You cannot breathe.
Without thinking, you flinch and shove her away.
She’s not used to this new weight, and can’t adapt to it as you shove her off balance. As she falls sloppy as a drunkard, her arms swing in futile attempt to find equilibrium with the new mass within her. She gropes at and brings the lamp—the only light in the room—down. It falls and shatters. The world around the two of you dims, the only light now coming through the doorway in from the living room hall.
Your fallen daughter is looking at you, her face wide-eyed and watery. A child jilted.
You want to comfort her, you really do, but you can still feel her new chassis upon your hands, like a phantom weight. She is heavier than you’ve ever known her to be, and you know what’s inside her, and it disgusts you.
You do not know what face you are making, but by the look on Sami’s face, you are sure it is not good. One tear falls from her right eye, then another. The burn of being rejected by her father. You can see it right through her skin, it’s seething. And, soon, the tears: they come in torrents.
First she is whispering it.
Fuck you, she whispers.
Then she says it again louder, then louder the next time.
Fuck you, she says.
With every repetition, her voice mounts toward something of a climax.
Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck. You.
Feeling the sudden pangs of guilt, you get up and reach out to help her, but she slaps your hand away. Fuck you, she says. Her face is still aflame with rage, and she can barely say the words she wants to say. She scrambles to stand, but for a short while she struggles like a tortoise flipped on its shell. Eventually, though, she gets up. She stands in front of you.
You open your arms and move toward her, but this time she is the one to flinch and shove, and this time you are the one to fall. You can spring to your feet easily, but you stay there, down there, looking up at your daughter, at your daughter’s shiny new stomach. From the floor she is a monolith of a woman, silhouetted by the light from the hallway behind her, which beams and reflects from her midriff as though she were a prototype at the Los Angeles Auto Show.
You wonder if she can read minds too, because her face twitches like she knows you’ve just thought of her as a car in an auto show.
She turns and she runs out the room.
Stand up. You cannot let her go. She is your daughter. What kind of father are you?
She is already out the door and into the night by the time you call her name. You are out the door too. She is sprinting across the street, and as she goes, she glances over her shoulder to see if you are following. You are. You’re not the worst father in the world, at least. At least you are running after her. At least she knows you love her that much.
As she is looking you in the eyes; as you see, in hers, a glint of relief because you are chasing after her: she is hit by a car. Her body twists and contorts as it rolls onto the swerving car’s hood. She slams against its windshield, creating a spider web of the glass, and just as quickly as she was on the hood, she is off again, flung outward in a low arc and back onto the street. She rolls, she slides, then she stops. She is not moving.
A man steps from the car, dazed and un-augmented. He stumbles and catches himself.
What happened, he says. What happened?
He looks at you.
Did you do this? he says, pointing at the dent on the hood.
He doesn’t know he’s hit your daughter. He’s so drunk, he doesn’t know.
You do not go to her. You already know you cannot bring her back. Instead, you charge directly at the driver. You lower your shoulder and spear him with your body. When he lands, he spits blood into the air. You do not flinch when you get this blood on you; you punch him in the face.
All the rage you feel now, all the rage you have felt all these years, you are purging. It’s unfair, you know, but you do not care. This man, he will take it, he will bear the burden of your loss, loss that extends beyond your daughter, back in time to your wife, to the loss of your wife. With your left fist, with your right, with your left again: you purge. There is more blood and there is more blood. There is another swing to the face, then another swing to the face.
The people on the street have gathered around the scene you’ve created. The people in their cars have exited their cars. Not a single person stops you.
When you finish, he is still alive, but barely. He coughs blood, his nose caved, his cheek caved too. The right side of his face has collapsed in on itself. He needs medical attention, but you do not get off him.
Instead, you sit there still on his chest. Why? you want to ask him. You ask him but he has no answer. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be the answer to the question you are really asking. He’s so drunk you can still smell, past the blood, all the alcohol.
You think of your daughter, of what she said to you. She could drink all she wants now, she had said. Drink all she wants and then purge it and drive home sober.
She is behind you, in an un-neat pile, sprawled in ways she shouldn’t sprawl. You will see later that pieces of her new stomach have left her body. That other organs that she has had since birth have left her body too. You will see that her face has on it not a single expression, not even a blank one.
You are not looking. You refuse to look.
You are sitting silently over this drunk man, sitting on his chest. The people gathered around you: they are now beginning to talk. You are looking at your fists, your hands, at the blood between your fingers. Your eyes are open, and you are looking.
Rey-Philip Genaldo welcomes your comments at rpgenaldo[at]gmail.com.
photo by Tucia.