Today marks my one hundredth anniversary working at the waffle factory. They threw a little party for me in the breakroom—coffee in paper cups, a pink cake with ONE HUNDRED written on it in frosting. My friend Ellie mimed throwing up on the cake. I laughed and covered my mouth with my cup.
Every day I press a button that stamps the waffles. Every hour or so, I pull up a rusted metal bar that shrieks and is satisfyingly heavy. I have to wear a mortifying smock that says “I Love Waffles!” I also wear a hairnet and safety goggles, which at least make me feel like a specialist.
My boss, Corkscrew, is an interesting man. He wears sparkling pantsuits and sometimes we go drinking after work and he tells me about how his parents died when he was young and how hard he has worked to get where he is. For the past hundred years, whenever I’m late, he looks over his giant heart-shaped sunglasses at me and says my job will be automated soon. Then he says in his deep voice, “Nevada, I hope you have a backup plan.”
There are all kinds of rumors about Corkscrew: that he’s 2000 years old, that he got the procedure before anyone else. Another theory is that he has never had the procedure and is, in fact, only 35. I can personally rule out this last one since I’ve known him for a hundred years now.
There are a few posters on the wall above me while I stamp waffles. I have them all memorized. One has a picture of a woman with her arm chopped off and blood spurting everywhere. It says in big letters below her: DON’T WAIT TO REPORT WORKPLACE INJURIES! Next to this poster, there is a placard with a signed message from the company CEO, Jack Something. It’s a long boring message and it ends with:
Breakfast is our passion.
I’ve only seen the CEO once since I started working here. This was way back on my first day. Corkscrew went over everyone to make sure we were all up to dress code. He was chewing a toothpick to splinters and reaching in his pocket for a new toothpick every minute. He scanned the line of employees, looked me up and down, and said, “Nevada, where the hell is your hairnet?”
He found me an extra one in the back in a dusty locker. Ellie elbowed me hard in the ribs when I got back in line. She was always bullying me when I started. She says she didn’t understand me back then. That first year, I would fantasize about killing her when I fell asleep at night. Now that we’re best friends, I’m glad I never killed her.
Jack Something didn’t stop on our floor, so I only saw him for a second, through a window. It was like seeing a glimpse of rotten fruit. It shook me a little. I don’t know why.
I like to take a few extra breaks per day—to smoke and think about philosophy. I have a lot of interesting philosophical thoughts. For example, I often think I am actually a brain with fish fins floating in a tank somewhere, hooked up to lots of monitors and blinking instruments.
I take a break for a nap, and another break to change my tampon. I have been on my period for about a year and a half, which I am concerned about. I told Ellie about it and she said it sounded like a nightmare. She teared up a little bit, thinking about it. I find pain interesting. Sometimes when I’m stamping waffles and pain like a knife cuts through my lower abdomen, I tense my muscles and stare at the waffle batter. In these moments, I feel connected to the universe.
On my last break of the day, I run into Cigarette Girl leaning against the wall outside. She takes six smoke breaks per day. She passes me a cigarette with her shaking, red fingers. I know she is ahead of me on the list to get fired. I know there is a list because Corkscrew showed it to me.
CG claims to know me from way back, which is possible. I forget about fifty years of my life. I mean, I woke up from my third procedure and the memories were gone. I don’t think much about it, but sometimes funny things come up—someone says that we dated or fist fought or played D&D together. I don’t remember playing D&D once in my entire life, but I must have had a phase.
These kinds of side effects are common. I remember my mother’s second trip to the surgeon, she came back with a different personality. She took off one afternoon and ended up marrying the host on The Price Is Right. They had a very public, very bitter divorce that I followed in the tabloids for a while. Then she went on a night drive and steered her Corvette off a bridge into the Mississippi River.
I was in my twenties and working at a grocery store then. My siblings started selling pictures of Mom for a hundred bucks or more. I was kind of living in a drug house at the time, where we mostly sat around making plans to get clean. I snuck home and stole a lot of Mom’s old stuff. That’s how I paid for my first procedure.
I remember the drug house. I remember some of my childhood. I was a boy back then—strange to think of it now. I remember driving Pop’s truck when I was fourteen. I was going down the road so fast I closed my eyes in fright.
“Open your eyes!” Pop kept shouting. I opened them in time to see us go down into the ditch, lurching like we were in high tide.
Sometimes I recreate this moment when I go home to Bristol Street. I close my eyes tight, and I keep driving like that. But nothing ever happens. My muscle memory takes over, swings the steering wheel around the curve, takes a left, then a right, then puts me safe and sound in the middle of my driveway.
Conveniently for me, it was cheaper to get a woman’s body. They said it’s because the chromosome is automatic—everyone is a girl at first. They grow you new organs and limbs from scratch like it’s nothing, even new skin. There is some room for customization. A surprising amount of people choose to be hermaphrodites now. Twice the trouble, if you’re asking my opinion.
At first, when my period just kept going, I thought I was having a miscarriage. I had a couple miscarriages before. I was pretty relieved about them. Or maybe I was devastated—I don’t recall. It’s amazing how foggy memory gets. Try reaching back three hundred years and see what you can remember.
When I get home, I put water on to boil pasta and do my stretches and calisthenics. I throw waffles to the cats on the front stoop. One of them tries to come in and I lift it out with my foot. My house is an ancient, bricked-over trailer. The ceiling sags dramatically. I’ve done my best with the place. I put up lace curtains and cover the mold spots with movie posters from the 1980s.
I flip through a magazine while the pasta boils. All the celebrities are naked, flirting with me. I have no sex life. It’s all the same to me. I want to be alone and watch movies.
Ellie is at my window. She taps on the glass and squishes her face against it. I get up and let her in. She is carrying one of the stray cats under her arm.
“Don’t bring in the cat,” I say.
“I’ll hold onto it,” she says, flopping down on the couch. “Are you cooking?”
“Yeah. You can have some. We should do something to celebrate, right?”
“Happy hundred years!” She pretends to shoot herself in the head. I laugh. Ellie is always funny. She has been at the waffle factory much longer than me. For all I know, it’s been a thousand years, but I’ve never asked. I find a couple of beers in the back of the fridge and we toast.
“To American Waffle,” I say.
“To my friend, Nevada,” says Ellie, which makes me blush. We drink solemnly for a minute.
“I’ve never even heard of these,” she says, looking at the posters on my wall. “The Dark Crystal? You should watch some new stuff. You won’t believe what they do on TV now.”
“Modern culture is trash,” I say, going over to check on the stove. Ellie sips her beer thoughtfully.
“They have this show where they turn people partway into animals,” she says. “All kinds of animals, even wings so you can fly. That’s the one I would get.” She trails off, gazing out the window and looking wistful. I imagine her with big parrot wings, getting fried and falling off a telephone pole.
“Disturbing,” I say.
“It’s amazing,” says Ellie. “I’ll tell you what’s disturbing: they have a show about a guy who cuts off and regrows his dick all the time.” She shudders. “Now that’s disturbing.”
“Fair enough,” I say, pouring pasta into the colander. Steam billows up to my face.
“Can you remember your childhood?” I say.
“Oh my gosh,” says Ellie, laughing. “Not at all.”
The cat escapes her grasp and jumps on the kitchen table, where it proceeds to hack up something.
“Ok, I guess that’s not true,” says Ellie. “I remember my parents. They both got the chip.” The chip used to come free after your second procedure. It turned out to immediately give you brain cancer.
“They’re talking about bringing it back,” I say.
“I know,” says Ellie. “I might get it. I know that’s fucked up.” We laugh.
“They say they can’t regrow brains,” says Ellie. “I think that’s an excuse to be done with us.”
I agree with her. We sit down with our pasta and I rummage to find us more beer. Suddenly, hunched over the fridge, I throw up a whole bunch of blood. Ellie jumps back in alarm.
“I’m fine,” I say, throwing up some more.
“Shut up!” she says. “You’re obviously dying!”
So, I agree to go to the doctor. Ellie drops me off and says she’ll wait for me. People are protesting outside, swaying and shouting about evil. One man holds a sign that says “YOU ARE A CLONE.”
The medical building used to be an airport, and lined up at the kiosks are sick people, checking in. I step on the scale that used to measure suitcases and I sit on the conveyor belt with my knees tucked in front of me. It seems to go on for miles. I make small talk with the person beside me, who has a bare skull for a head, rattling teeth, and wide, bloodshot eyes.
The conveyor belt deposits me at a door, carrying off my companion. I wave bye and enter a small office where a woman with shiny skin is standing in the middle of the room. She leans on a rolling cart with a monitor on top, typing with one hand and twirling a ballpoint pen with the other.
“How many procedures?” she asks. I close one eye as I count.
“Five,” I say.
“I have been, um, having my time—,” I begin. She taps her pen on the desk impatiently. “—of the month,” I continue. I suddenly feel shy about the whole thing. “For a while.”
“That isn’t unheard of,” she says. “How long?”
“A year and a half,” I say. I’m relieved that it isn’t unheard of.
“Right,” she says. She types something on the monitor. “You’re probably looking at a hundred years.” I stare blankly at her.
“Ninety-eight and a half to go, for you,” she adds, helpfully. “Ninety-eight and a half years of menstruation.”
“You mean you can’t do anything about it?” I say.
“It isn’t going to kill you,” the woman says. She rolls her eyes at my disappointed expression and hands me a bottle of pills that says SAMPLE across the cap. Immensely cheered, I thank her and go, clutching my new pills.
Ellie is nowhere to be found, so I call a taxi. A little pod-car scoots up, its automatic doors creaking open. It’s self-driving, so I sit back and look out of the window in peace. I think about how most of my memories from childhood are watching TV—Seventh Heaven, X-Files, and Stargate: Atlantis. All the characters and dialogue and plot run together in my mind.
I pay for the taxi and sprint inside my house. Inside, I take a pill out and examine it. It’s as red as cherry candy. I swallow it and sit on the couch, running my hands over my knees in anticipation. I hum “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” to myself and pull my computer out of the wall. I think I probably am a clone and I wonder if it matters.
It’s a dollar a minute for internet. I calculate how much it would cost to search for and watch an episode of X-Files. The pill hits before I decide anything. It is far stronger than I anticipated and I slide to the floor. The last thing I see before I lose consciousness is the computer time ticking and adding dollars to my account.
When I wake up, blood has stained my pants an extravagant red, down to my knees. Right, I think. 98 more years. Maybe I’ll just walk around like this. That would show them.
Corkscrew lowers his sunglasses at me as I clock in.
“Automation is the future,” he says. He lowers his eyes, registering my pants. He opens his mouth, then closes it and turns back to his computer.
I stamp waffles triumphantly. I try not to think about my new internet debt. In the breakroom, some coworkers grumble about my being a health concern. Ellie is supportive.
“Hilarious,” she says.
On one of my breaks, Cigarette Girl corners me outside, looking slightly crazed.
“Nevada,” she says, her eyes bugging out of her skull. She automatically hands me a cigarette as she talks. “I have a plan that is going to change things. I’m going to assassinate Jack Something tonight. I’m going to his house and I’m going to shoot him through the window. I also have poison as a backup plan, but—” she flutters her fingers twitchily— “it is a last resort because it might kill the wrong person.”
I gratefully drag on the cigarette. I feel clear-headed.
“Follow your heart, CG,” I say.
After work, Ellie comes home with me. I take a shower and change, with some regret, leaving the pants to soak in the tub. Ellie eats some leftovers from my fridge and falls asleep on the couch. Stripes of light from the window blinds pattern her face. She looks peaceful. I imagine she’s dreaming about flying around as a toucan or something. I put a blanket over her and step outside.
Cats swarm around my feet. The sun burns bright and apocalyptic. I wonder if Cigarette Girl has Jack Something in her crosshairs yet. I picture her fingers lightly, nervously tapping at the trigger. Across the street, a possum strolls along the road with her babies on her back. She sniffs around at trash, dipping her nose in a yogurt cup. A couple of the cats eye her curiously. The possum spares us a glance before continuing along and disappearing in the brush, her shadow close behind her.