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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

(Go back to Part Three)

Part Four

     Penny arrives in Southampton. She goes into the car park, where Richard and Michelle are waiting for her by the car. She embraces, kisses them both. She's always got on with Michelle, who today is even more animated than usual. This is the first time Penny has seen her since she became pregnant; the small bump rounds out Michelle's figure nicely.
     The three of them prepare dinner, eat it and wash up. Penny phones Malcolm and they talk for twenty minutes. Penny, Richard and Michelle sit in front of the TV in the small front room until ten o'clock when a bout of yawning prompts Michelle to urge Penny to go to bed.
     "You've had a long day."
     "Yes, you need to be fresh tomorrow," says Richard.
     Penny nods, and yawns. "I think I'd better."
     "You're picking up the Brummie accent," says Richard.
     "Am I? I haven't noticed. I must've lived there too long."
     "Anyway, we'll see Mum tomorrow."
     "It's terrible. It's not so long after Dad died."
     Richard shrugs; he always has been fatalistic. Michelle mutters: "It's such a terrible shame."
     As Penny wanders down the hallway to her room, she realises how tired she is. She undresses slowly, having to search for places to drape her clothes; natural tidiness forbids her to drop them on the floor. The light is weak, the wardrobe crowding out much of it. The bed is harder than she's used to; she never sleeps well in strange beds. She lies in the darkness, tossing and turning, bone-weary yet unable to sleep.
     And then she hears:
     - Such a shame can't Marie not here oh shit...
     "Who's there?" she says aloud.
     - What's that? It's a male voice: not in the room but inside her head. Who are you?
     She begins to tremble. She thinks: Am I going mad? It's the first sign of schizophrenia, hearing voices. Soon she'll begin to hallucinate.
     - What's your name? says the voice.
     "Who are you?"
     - I asked first. More peevish than threatening; she begins to relax. What's your name, please?
     She's poised to say it aloud, but she pauses, then thinks it:
     - Penny.
     A thought with a little extra thrust, so this other person can hear it.
     - Hello, Penny. I'm Peter. Now, what are you doing here?
     - What are you doing here?
     - You tell me first.
     - I'm staying in this room in my brother's house. We're going to see our Mum in hospital tomorrow.
     - Hang on, something's just clicked. What's your brother's name?
Peter asks.
     - Richard.
     - What does he do?
     - He's a chartered accountant.
     - Is he married?
     - Yes. His wife's called Michelle. They've been married two years.
     - Have they got any children?
     - No, but one's on its way. Where's all this leading to?
     - I've only got one more question, the voice in her head says. Just one more, Penny. When and where were you born?
     - 7th July 1967, in Southampton. Why?
     - So was I. It's all coming into place. I've also got a brother called Richard, a sister-in-law called Michelle, and a dying mother. You're me. You're the person I'd have been if I'd been born female.
     - I've never heard such shit in my life, Penny thinks. You're just a voice in my head and I'm going mad. Now fuck off and let me sleep.

     She buries her head in the pillow and resists any further attempts of the voice to communicate with her.

     The following morning I could still feel Penny's presence in my head. It was like having a second pair of eyes. The view from her head was faint; she was holding me off.
     It was tantalising. I must surely be imagining this: or maybe God was being generous for once. I wanted, more than anything, to be a woman; now He was presenting me with just that possibility.
     If I could only look through her eyes, just once. To be a woman...
     Her voice inside my head: Fucking forget it. You're not getting inside my head.
     But I knew I'd only be disappointed. I knew, even if I had a sex change, that I could only ever be an approximation of what I wished. For most purposes a close, even indistiguishable, approximation, but still an approximation. I'd never have periods, never be able to have children. I'd been cheated of girlhood and a proper adolescence.
     - What are you so worried about? There wasn't anything special about my adolescence. Nor my girlhood. It was quite ordinary really.
     - But you're taking it for granted, I said. You haven't been cheated. You fit.
     - What did I do? I smoked a few fags, got pissed a few times, had sex on Saturday nights. I was no different to anyone else.

     At least we could talk together. During breakfast, the phone rang, in her world only. But I heard it, so vividly that I started.
     Richard looked up. "What's the matter, Peter?"
     "The phone's ringing."
     "No it isn't." He laughed. "Wake up."
     (In Penny's world, Michelle got up to answer the phone. In mine, she stayed put, reading the tabloid section of The Guardian.)
     "I could have sworn it was."
     Michelle looked up at me and smiled. "Hearing things, are we, Peter?"
     "I must be."
     (In Penny's world, Michelle was saying: "Yes, I'll go and get her." She walked back into the kitchen and said to Penny/me: "It's for you. Malcolm.")
     I ate my cereal and didn't say anything, but in my head I was with Penny as she went to the phone.
     ("Hello, love of my life," she said.
     ("Hi, Penny. How you feeling?"
     ("I'm a lot better, thanks. We're going to see Mum today.")
     As they talked, I made a little mental push and sank deeper inside Penny's head. Her flesh was ghostly-solid now, the telephone receiver a faint pressure on my ear. But memories and thoughts floated up, about Malcolm, and Penny's relationship with him. And memories of their lovemaking. Their first time, in her flat, after a nightclub. And the most recent, when she tried oral sex on him; I could feel the sensation inside my mouth. I could hear the creak of the bedsprings, her gasping loud in my ears. And then brief snippets of sensation: his penis entering her, the whole-body fuse-blowing of her orgasm.
     To my embarrassment, I had an erection.
     - Will you get out of my head!
     More forceful than ever before: she pushed me away, so much so, that contact was broken for a few seconds. When it returned, I was back to the usual arm's length contact.
     ("Have a good day," Malcolm finished his conversation. "Love you."
     ("Love you," Penny said.)

Go On To Part Five