By Barry Green
After a hard-partying night, it can be tough waking up and facing the next day.
My head was pounding as I stumbled into the bathroom and washed my face, as my eyes felt as though they were being pushed out of my cranium from behind. The cold water helped a little and I dabbed the moisture away with a hand towel.
Looking into the mirror, I saw something unfamiliar.
I am a 50-year-old man with mostly gray, thinning hair. But it was a younger, maybe 35-year-old, female looking back at me. She (I?) had short, pixyish, light brown hair and thin, but inviting, lips. Her nose resembled mine – long and straight – and her eyes were brown, like mine, but beyond that, she didn’t look like I remembered the last time I looked at myself.
“This is a doozy of a hangover,” she said to me. “I knew that things can change when you over indulge, but this is way beyond what seems reasonable.” I found my mouth couldn’t get out the words to respond. I just stared.
After a few minutes of shaking my head and slapping my face, I fumbled my way into the closet to pick out clothes to wear. There were items hanging up that I had no recollection of having bought – things that could be worn by men or women. I selected a pair of black Levis and a gray, long sleeve button up shirt and put them on over the boxer shorts and baggy tee shirt I was wearing.
I got dressed quickly and headed down the steps to the street. I needed a cup of strong coffee and there was a quick stop store on the corner that could provide it.
When I entered, a bell over the door jingled and a young man behind the counter turned to me. “Hey, Zel. What’s cooking today. You’re looking tired. Too much carousing last night?”
My name is, or at least was, Zelig, but I think he was talking to someone called Zelda. It was difficult to say for sure. “Yeah, Anthony. It was a long night. I’m having problems remembering everything. I do know I need a cup of your lousy coffee.” My voice was raspy and had a mid-range timbre that could belong to a woman or a man. It was making me a little crazy.
“Tony, do I look different to you?”
“Why? Did you drink some of that cheap radioactive crap that they say can modify you genetically?” He laughed at his own joke.
“I’m serious. I don’t feel like myself this morning.”
“Well, you cut your hair. But it looks nice. And you look like you’ve got a hell of a hangover. You actually look a little younger, so maybe you were drinking embalming fluid. But otherwise, not so different.”
He handed me my coffee and I paid and left the store.
It was a warm day for autumn, but the street looked the same as always. I sipped from the cup as I walked back home.
An older man wearing a faded brown trench coat and battered gray fedora came toward me and looked me up and down. He stared into my eyes and let out a lecherous “Heh, heh.” I glared at him and he turned his face away, walking faster as he passed me.
The stairs to my apartment seemed steeper than last time I climbed them and I was out of breath when I got to my door and went in.
I had to pee, but was afraid of what I might, or might not, find. In the corner of the room, on a small oak end table, were photos of my parents and of a boat I once hoped to be able to afford. On the wall hung a map of the Chesapeake Bay that I’d hoped to sail the boat in. That hadn’t changed from the day before.
I started toward the bathroom when the telephone in the living room rang and, without thinking, ran to answer it. The voice at the other end was at first high pitched, then took on a baritone quality. “Your mother told you that you’d ruin everything if you didn’t give up drinking. And, now look at you. You’ve done it this time. One time too many, as they say. So, don’t complain to me. You did it to yourself.” Then a hang up and a dial tone. My mother had been dead two years. How did this person know what she’d told me?
It rang a second time, but I let it go to voice mail and heard the message as it was recorded. “Zelly, it’s me,” said a familiar woman’s voice. “You were supposed to meet me at Julie’s Diner at 9:00. It’s now 9:30. Where are you? I told you we had something important to discuss and you promised you’d be here. I’ll wait another few minutes, but then I’m gone and you’re on your own.” I picked up the phone, but only heard a dial tone.
I quickly headed for the door and ran down the steps. The diner was two blocks away and it took me less than 5 minutes to get there. I opened the door and went in, scanning the Formica topped tables for a familiar face. I had recognized the voice, but couldn’t remember who it belonged to. There wasn’t anyone I knew in the place, so I stepped outside and walked to a bench a half block up, next to a bus stop. Sitting down, I stared at a window on the first floor of a building across the street and saw a man waving at me. At the same time, I sensed someone sit down next to me, then felt a hand on my thigh. I turned and saw the old man in the trench coat. He seemed to have grown younger and smiled at me. Not knowing what else to do, I hauled off and punched him in the face. “Don’t you ever touch me again, you pig.”
He stood up and darted into the street where he was hit by an express bus.
I quickly ran to him as he lay in the roadway, his body contorted and his face bloodied. He was conscious and breathing hard. “Why did you punch me?” he asked in a pained voice. As other passersby came running and the sound of a siren filled the scene, I looked and the man had become a woman who looked like the one in my mirror that morning. I felt a pain in my right leg and when I looked down, I saw that it was twisted into an unnatural shape and a bone was protruding from my pant leg, covered with blood. Then, everything became dark and quiet.
“Zelig was a good man,” the Rabbi said. “He cared about others and tried to heal a troubled world. He didn’t deserve this ending, but who can say why things end as they do?”
I felt the box being lowered and heard dirt being shoveled over me, and low voices repeating the Kaddish. I wanted to scream and let them know I was still here, but no sound would escape my lips. The darkness wrapped around me like a warm blanket and I fell into a deep sleep. When I awoke, the sun was out, glinting off the gentle waves on the bay, and a pretty woman with short brown hair, a long, straight nose, and thin, but attractive lips was sitting next to me. “It’s about time, sleepy head. The coffee’s getting cold and we’re supposed to meet your parents for brunch in an hour.”
I stretched and stood up, a bit shaky at first but then feeling my feet on solid ground. “Let me take a quick shower, put on some clean clothes and I’ll be ready to roll.”
* * *
Barry Green is retired and lives in Ashland, Virginia. He writes poems and short fiction and tends his garden and the woods that surround it.