Noel Jones


       I never had enough legs, and I wanted to breathe water instead of air. It took me a quarter of a life to figure out what was wrong. It took five octopus lifetimes, so I was well behind my peers. I watched them on NatGeo Instagram videos and wished to dive into ocean trenches, to camouflage my skin to match the ocean floor.
       A research hospital offered surgery to fix me. On the morning of the procedure I made Mom eggs, and sat across the table watching her since I wasn’t allowed to eat. She prodded her fork at the soft dome of dandelion yellow yolk rising above the white. I’d slightly burned them, so there were brownish foamy flakes among the white expanse below the rising yolk. A turbulent sea of egg. She sunk the tines in deep enough that the yolk gave under the pressure, but not enough that it broke and gushed through, the membrane perforated but not broken. I watched her and ground the inside of my cheek between my teeth. I’d been trying to break that habit.
       She put her fork down, braided her fingers together on the bit of the table in front of her plate and peered at me. She didn’t speak. She was waiting for me to explain, maybe, more than she was putting me to judgment. Though by the squint of her eyes she was most likely doing both. Mom reminded me of a wolf, but a tired one. Used to denying her animal nature.
       “I need to do this,” I told her, “I was becoming afraid of the way my heart shuddered instead of beat. This body I’m in keeps forgetting to breathe for me.” Her eyes fell closed, and she pinched where her eyebrows creased trying to meet each other. I don’t think it helped. “Are you going to take me to the restaurant?”
       “You don’t need to go to work anymore,” she declared this, but didn’t look at me. “So what, after this you’ll be gone, Gemima? Out of my life?” My stomach twisted, and to calm its writhing I had to stand and leave the table. I stood next to the couch. My knees begged me to give in.
       “I’ll live in the ocean, Mom. I wouldn’t be far, if you wanted me.” She went back to her room with a sigh. Hunger made the room waver. I went to sleep swaddled in the sheets she laid out on the couch for me.
       Lilly had to wake me by honking her horn from the curb, because Mom didn’t let me know she’d arrived. Rushed out the door, I left the bag the doctors told me to prepare, in case I reneged and needed a change of clothes to slink home in. Lilly bared her teeth at me as I got into the car. I think she meant to smile. The weight of wanting to ask me why weighed the corners of her mouth down. They were chapped and shedding scales. She had a tendency to pick at the skin while she worried. I wanted to tell her the doctors could make her a snake if she wanted, the scales had made me think, she’d just have to figure out what kind, but I didn’t.
       “I need a world of water to hold me up,” I tried to answer the question Lilly wouldn’t ask.
       She smiled then, a crooked one with wistful water snake tails winding in the her eyes dark like the deep middle of a pond. She was near tears. “Can I hold your hand while I drive?” The answer was yes, of course. Her thumb drew circles in the back of my hand, the shapes morphing into the more complex as we drove. I think she was testing ideas for a series of drawings there on me, like all those nights I laid out semi-nude on her silk sheets so she could brainstorm with my back as a canvas, sponging off the mistakes and painting over layers of washed out color and sweat.
       “Thank you for driving me.”
       “Gem, of course. Do you need to stop for anything? Coffee?”
       “I need it, but I can’t. Stomach has to be empty so I’m not allowed.”
       “I think there’s room to wiggle there. Well, I need coffee, what do you think I should get?” She let me have a sip of the vanilla doubleshot latte I suggested she get, which ended up meaning half of it. “I won’t tell the doctors.”
       Lilly hummed along with the radio, softly, but she got most of the notes wrong so she was composing her own scores accompanied by background songs. I tracked the movement of the asphalt flowing under the wheels until I got dizzy, buoyed along on currents being baked under the summer sun, partly evaporated along mirage lines. I was one with the asphalt ocean. It made me sick.
       “We’re here, Gem. Let me walk you inside.” She kissed my forehead in the waiting room when the nurse called me back. “They won’t let me go with you.” My heart wanted to sink. It wanted to go back to the kitchen and cook for Lilly, to swallow having the wrong body for the right life. Good thing the traitor was getting taken out.
       Lilly leaped a little, looked at the doors to surgery, then back to me, wincing. She wasn’t wearing makeup, her eyes had packed big indigo bags they made her carry. I hadn’t seen her freckles exposed for years. Her eyes looked rounder, childlike without prismacolor framing. “I love you.”
       She smiled for real again. “I’ll be here when you get out. I’ll buy a boat and come visit you too, okay?” She took my hands to squeeze, and then she let me go.
       The doctor prepared me for surgery, said “Are you ready?” like I would change my mind. I told him, “This body isn’t mine. I always felt the body that was mine as it should have been, phantom limbs but for the whole thing. I’m going to go so deep in the sea that no one will see me. I’ll just be.”

Noel Jones is a nonbinary writer living in Beloit, WI. They studied physics and creative writing at Beloit College. When not writing gothic horror about flowers or normalizing equations, they brew tea or get new tattoos.

I wrote this piece after stumbling across the concept of transmogrification while doing research on alchemy. Transmogrification is the transformation of the human body by magical means. I started to think of all the ways trans people change their bodies, or modify their expression, and how magical these transformations can be. This flash fiction is supposed to express some element of that magic.