The man went out to get the mail. He opened the mailbox and looked inside. There were envelopes and a magazine. The magazine was Gourmet. It was a monthly for his wife, but his wife was dead. The periodical people probably didn’t know she died. If they do find out will they cancel her subscription? he wondered.
The night’s air was brisk and clear. Walking weather. The street was quiet.
He was one of those sad men you see walking around with their eyes on the pavement. Trudged in the rain. Trudged under the sun. Dragging his feet. But now that his wife was dead he held his head high constantly alert, on the lookout for her whereabouts. There were times he swore he saw her sitting in a tree or hang-gliding above in the open sky, but it always turned out to be various breeds of birds: ravens, owls, songbirds, woodpeckers, vultures.
The man had an urge to bring the magazine to his wife, even if she turned out to be a bird. He crossed the street, straight ahead to the sidewalk. The street lamps gave intermittent light. Enough for him to read a few sentences. It was a cooking magazine. His wife used to cook the most amazing meals: Boeuf Bourguignon, Bouillabaisse, Crêpes Suzette, and always with gobbles of red wine.
The man imagined the writer of the articles to be his wife. Every published word was hers. He read as he walked, sometimes sticking his hand out to pull a leaf off a tree or pluck a rose from a rose bush.
Around midnight the neighborhood dogs began to follow him. They were nice, but had that look, as if they could turn into something completely different than Dog, perhaps another species altogether. The dogs spread out from sidewalk to sidewalk.
While walking (now in the middle of the street) he thought about his wife’s flat feet. She liked to put her big feet in the air when making love. He’d hitch her ankles over his shoulders and go to work.
“This is your job,” she’d say. “Fulltime.”
“Could use some benefits,” he’d say. “A 401k.”
“You can have it all!” she’d say, “Direct deposit.”
For mysterious reasons this sort of banter made them climax at the same time, every time.
As a kid the man was known for breaking things: lamps, windows, mirrors. But also other stuff like woodstove pipes, globes, doorknobs, and once he broke a piano key. He kept that key in his underwear drawer. He never got around to telling his wife why he kept it.
The man broke off a branch of a maple tree and busted a mailbox.
“I haven’t broken anything in so long,” said the man. “Feels good.”
Every time a mailbox fell the dogs would yelp.
The man decided to take the On Ramp to the highway. There wasn’t much traffic, but every so often a car would slowly swerve back and forth behind the dogs until ambling off the exit in defeat. The man didn’t care about drivers, he was on a mission to find his dead wife.
“She’s probably swimming in a clear blue ocean,” he said. “She loved to swim.” Then he closed his eyes and pictured her big flippers kicking the water behind her.
The man began walking on all fours.
“When you’re as broken as me you can walk on all fours,” he said. “Mind as well.”
He looked behind him and noticed the dogs up on their hind legs. When the man stood the dogs went back on all fours as if to rebalance the universe.
Around two in the morning a woman his height, his build, his exact gait, came beside and matched him stride for stride. Her hair was short like his. She was thin, but wore a yellow sun dress. Her breasts were on the smaller side.
“There you are,” he said. She looked like his cousin, Rosina. “I haven’t seen you since Christmas at Noni’s!”
“You used to look under my dress,” she said.
“It was the point of the game.”
“Those days are long gone,” she said, flicking his earlobe.
“God,” he said. “It’s like looking into the mirror.”
“Should we switch places?” she asked. “Just to see what would happen.”
“I’m in favor. Anyway, it seems like the right time to take a turn.”
The highway veered left. He looked behind him. The dogs’ tongues were out, panting.
At mile marker fifteen they traded clothes. He stepped into her dress and had her tie the string in the back.
“I’ve always wanted help getting in and out of my clothes.”
“It gets old,” said Rosina. “Believe me.”
He admitted (to himself) that the dress felt alright, kinda good at first, but then a little too free? Actually, he wasn’t sure how he felt about it.
After Rosina cinched up the leather belt and snapped the brass buckle she took EXIT 115 toward Lewisville.
“So long cuz,” she said. “Till next time.”
The man kept on, and at some point during the long journey became Female.
Also, and oddly, when she (the man) looked behind her the dogs had transformed into cats. Or perhaps the dogs gave up and some cats replaced the dogs? It’s impossible to know for sure, he thought.
The woman in the yellow sundress kept on, dead set on finding her wife.
She reached in her back pocket for the magazine but since she didn’t have a pocket she found only the soft curve of her ass. The magazine ended up being rolled up in her cleavage. She didn’t remember having breasts and certainly wouldn’t have thought to place a magazine there, but she pulled it out anyway wondering what else could be in this issue.
Music began to play upon opening the magazine. Big band music, Glen Miller style. When she closed the pages the music cut off.
When the music played the street lamps brightened and hummed as if they were getting turned on, sexually. When she closed it the street lamps grew dim and depressed as if they got their feelings hurt or their balls chopped off.
“Balls?” she said. “Penis and balls and all that man stuff. No thank you.”
She folded the magazine four ways and stuffed it in her panties.
She didn’t hate cats, but was surprised that cats were following her, since she always thought herself a dog person.
“My wife liked cats,” she said to the cats.
“Cats cats cats,” said the cats. But turns out they were little children in cat costumes.
Once they reached the end of the world the children giggled no more. She grabbed the chain link fence that served as the last obstacle and gazed out into the black abyss.
The children climbed the fence and leaped in shouting “Cats! Cats! Cats!”
Instead of falling they hovered over the darkness and began to shrink: children to toddlers, toddlers to babies, babies to fetuses, until there was nothing at all. She knew, she just knew, those kids were her unborn children. She began to weep with the realization of the unfair life. Some of her tears dropped and ran down the front of her dress.
After calming herself, she reached into her panties and pulled out the magazine. She read the first recipe: two parts radio, a pinch of Canada, a dash of moon, and a drizzle of lug nuts.
“Oh, I remember that one,” said a pretty voice coming from the abyss. “Delicious.”
“I found you,” said the woman in a yellow dress.
“Remember how I used to put my feet on your shoulders.”
“I miss your big feet.”
“I can see that.”
She looked down and saw her manhood restored and pitching a tent inside the yellow dress. And then from the abyss, a hand reached through the fence and up his dress, grabbing hold. She began to work it back and forth like she did when they were young.
“There it is!” he said. He stretched over the fence and took hold of her left breast.
“You always liked the left one best!” she said.
“I love it all,” but when he went to reach further toward her sweet center (where she liked him to rub just so), he felt her hand grab his wrist.
“If you go there,” she warned, “you’ll never be able to go back.”
He thought about all the things he broke when he was young: eight ball, lawn mower, sky light, hat rack, white chalk, sun flower, and the piano key still stuck in his underwear drawer.
“Where will I go?” he said.
“You’ll see,” she said, and giggled.