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Gary Couzens is a British writer whose work has been published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, The Third Alternative, Peeping Tom, Psychotrope and Urges, and in the anthology Bizarre Sex and Other Crimes of Passion (Richard Kasak Books). This story previously appeared in Substance #4.

Dark Planet is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments, please contact her at lusnyde@indiana.edu.

All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).


by Gary Couzens

Part One

     Penny has a migraine.
     She's suffered from them since her early teens, enough to know their onset: the sick feeling in her stomach, the one-side-of-the-head ache, the visual disturbance. "I'm sorry," she mutters. She gets up from her VDU and hurries to the Ladies'. She leans against the washbasin, gazing at her reflection. Someone has cleaned up in here; the air is sour with disinfectant. Penny's face is pale. But despite the churning inside her, the dizziness, at least she's unlikely to vomit.
     She holds her breath and counts to ten, then strides purposefully back into her office, past her desk and up to the end of the room where Pam, the supervisor, sits. Pam looks up, eyes large behind her glasses. "You don't look too well, Penny."
     "I'm not," says Penny, rubbing at the pain, over her right eye.
     "Another migraine?"
     Penny nods.
     Pam tuts. "You really ought to see a doctor."
     "I've seen a doctor." Several, in fact. The first, a man, was inclined to blame it on PMT. But the headaches don't coincide with her periods, more like halfway between them. My fertile time.
     "How are you going to get home?"
     "My bus goes at half past."
     "You will be all right? You don't want me to drive you home?"
     "No, I'll be all right, thanks."
     As the bus tails through the outskirts of Birmingham, Penny lightly closes her eyes. A hazy winter sun glares painfully through the window. The noisy chatter of schoolchildren assaults her ears. When she got on this bus, she made sure she sat alone. She wrapped her arms about herself, folded one leg over the other, tugged at her skirt to cover her knees. Self-contained, untouchable. Contact hurts. But the bus has filled up with children returning home; she now has a boy of fifteen sitting next to her, leaning across to chat up the girl across the aisle. The girl is laughing at what he says. Penny is not impressed, but then she's twenty-five now, not fifteen any more.
     She lets herself into the house she shares with four others. In the kitchen she eats nothing, drinks only water. She doubts she could keep anything else down. She goes to her room, shuts the door, draws the curtains. Silence, apart from the creak of a loose floorboard. She's the only one in the house. That's the way she likes it: Mark across the corridor has been known to play high-volume heavy metal in the evenings. Normally it's an irritant; now it'd be like needles raking her skull.
     She undresses down to her bra and knickers. She shivers in the cold air and hurriedly climbs into bed, pulling the sheets and blankets up to her neck. She closes her eyes and tries to sleep, the only relief from the thick pulsing inside her skull.
     She sleeps fitfully, if at all.

     Today was the day one of my colleagues, Sarah, left to go on maternity leave. Another colleague, Sammi, who had done likewise a year before and never came back, also called in to visit, baby in tow. Sammi and Sarah and other women in the office who'd had babies -- and a few broody non-mothers as well -- compared pregnancy notes, admired Sammi's young son. At the centre of it all Sarah sat, self-evidently happy, full, fat and blooming.
     My name is Peter. I was one of three men in the office. One of the others, who couldn't stand young children, took the opportunity to go for a coffee. I, on the other hand, stayed and watched, in between phonecalls glancing up.
     Envy is a destructive emotion. And inaccurate: I didn't envy Sarah. Not her happiness, at least. But in a way she took her good fortune for granted. If, as I ardently hoped, I could live as a woman - the operation being the final stage of it - I could never be pregnant, never have a child of my own. It was, quite simply, medically impossible.
     And babies were back in fashion, of course. Farewell to the careerist Eighties, welcome to the brand spanking new green caring sharing Nineties. Hail the 1992/93 birthrate bulge. If the Eighties were symbolised by the yuppie, than the key figure of the Nineties was the Earth Mother.
     Oh cruel nature. Stick in the knife and twist it home.
     In the evening I went home. I was tired - I was always tired after work now. There were not enough staff to answer the volume of calls that came in day after day, so we all went home mentally poleaxed, often with a stress headache.
     I shared a house in Aldershot with four other men. One of them was rarely in and, when he was, he was more concerned with fucking his girlfriend than with socialising. It wasn't a household as such, just five individuals under one roof. I kept myself apart, and was content to keep it that way. No-one came into my room unless invited. For there I kept my secret. I had never told my mother (my father died five years ago), nor my elder brother Richard, living in Southampton. And speaking of fashion...Richard's wife Michelle was soon to produce the first of their 2.4 children.
     Consider: if I revealed all to any of them (housemates or relatives), how would they react? Would they think I was gay? I was not, though I'd had one (and only one, thoroughly unsuccessful) homosexual experience. That I was a transvestite? No, a transvestite knows that under the lacy bra and frilly panties, the schoolgirl dresses, the wigs and makeup, is a fully-functioning masculine body ... with an erection. Many drag queens despise women, and no transvestite wants to be one. There is a divide between acting and reality.
     A male transsexual wants to close that divide. To be a woman. I am a male transsexual.
     Often I stood naked in front of a mirror, the full-length one in my wardrobe. However much I tried to rationalise it, I looked wrong. My mind and my body were out of phase. Where were my breasts? (In my imagination I had magnificent breasts, say 38D.) What was that useless knot of tissue, like a twisted sock, hanging between my legs?
     My clothes. I had quite a collection, carefully gathered over the years. I'd shopped for it, an item at a time, different shops in different towns so that no-one might recognise me as a regular. Often the assistants would offer to help; perhaps I looked like the man buying his girlfriend/wife a present for her birthday or - at the appropriate time of year - for Christmas. A bra here (which I'd pad out with socks when I wore it), a pair of knickers there, some tights, some pairs of one-size-fits-all stockings. Some old skirts I'd bought at a jumble sale. Lipstick, eyeshadow. When I wanted to feel sexy, I had a black suspender belt. And the pride of my collection: a long lavender evening dress. When I was alone in the house and knew I wouldn't be disturbed, I'd put them on. And for a while I'd cease to be Peter and I'd become ... Marie. She is me and I am she.

Go On To Part Two