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A Switch in Time - Short Story by Margaret Karmazin

Though Brianna Kinney had always enjoyed a roof over her head and food on the table (too much of that and not always the right kind), she’d often lacked other things that nourish the soul. At twenty-five, she had still never experienced sex, if you subtract being fingered by an uncle at eight years old. And though she tested with an IQ of 138, she had not been able to finish her education. After her mother’s massive stroke, Brianna quit attending community college to take care of her and by the time the poor woman died, Brianna needed immediate work to support herself. Not only that, she had fallen into a deep depression that soon became what she thought of as her normal way to be.

She applied to the school district for a teacher’s aide position, but that ended up going to the vice principal’s niece, then eventually found work as a nurse’s aide.

Brianna lived in a shabby apartment building where each night she stuffed foam plugs into her ears and pulled a knit hat over her head to try and drown out the sounds of the upstairs neighbors apparently fighting with bowling balls. Twice she’d heard a woman scream and one time a gunshot.

The reasons contributing to why Brianna had never experienced a relationship were both obvious and complicated. She was five foot one and a half and weighed two hundred and ninety-three pounds. Men, at least not ones she considered appealing, did not come on to her. Also, she wasn’t sure if she was gay since most of her sexual fantasies were about females—ones she knew, celebrities and made up people. In nonsexual fantasies, she was a swashbuckling hero, a vampire slayer or modern Robin Hood, never a simpering flower like in romance novels.

Sometimes, she found herself wishing she werea man and dressed the part, though not all the way. When not working, she wore mannish pants and tucked in tailored shirts (when it would have looked better not to tuck in), but was inordinately fond of chandelier earrings. These did not look especially good on her since she had a short, thick neck. She did not particularly feel that she was a man inside a woman’s body—her feelings were more that she was no sure gender at all inside a female body that no one wanted anyway.

She did have two quite appealing physical characteristics: large brown, green-speckled eyes with thick black lashes and heart shaped lips. Other than that, she considered herself quite ugly. Everyday she passed many mirrors and her vision was 20/20.

“You really need to get serious about losing weight,” her coworker Janine said for the umpteenth time during morning break.

Brianna knew that her weight disgusted people but the idea of really trying to get rid of it seemed akin to climbing Mt. Everest. She agreed with Janine though. “You’re right,” she said as she helped herself to two donuts from the open box on the break room counter.

That afternoon, she had to clean up the same patient twice. He was too young to be a stroke victim, but there he was, paralyzed on one side and too shocked to try doing anything for himself yet, though his right hand worked all right. Fifty-two years old, he was, and decent looking too. He sure could mess himself. Brianna felt bad for him. He was a building contractor and putting two kids through college and now he wouldn’t be able to work for a long time. She could imagine his frustration.

As she washed him, she admired his long, muscular legs, well-developed chest and shapely arms and thought of her handsome father, the one she had only seen in photographs since he had suffered PTSD after serving in the Gulf War and committed suicide.

What would it be like to have a body like this man’s? Though if she did, she would prefer having skin the exact shade of her own, not this hairy, pale stuff like a plucked chicken. Being a mix of Korean, Jamaican and Norwegian, her own skin was golden tan and that part about herself, she did like.

The man groaned and a tear trickled from the outside corner of his eye. She felt as if she were the one lying there and gently wiped his face. “Now Mr. Carey, in a bit of time, you’ll be up and about,” she said softly. “Don’t you worry now, the time will come when you’re back at your job and your regular life.” Though she doubted it would be regular for a long time.

And then he farted and made another mess. But she mentally shut off her nose and as gently as the first time, cleaned him up.

She was, in fact, compassionate towards anything human or for that matter alive. Patients patted her arm as they were leaving and told her how much they’d valued her many kindnesses. Often they handed her giant boxes of chocolates to express their gratitude—nice of them, but the very last thing Brianna needed.

Sarah, the charge nurse on Brianna’s floor recognized intelligence and potential when she saw it. At least once a month, she pulled Brianna into her office and started anew. “Brianna, I’ve been watching you for years now and you’ve got the brains to be a nurse or NP or for that matter a doctor! You could be a doctor! I can help you get into a program or something. The hospital will cover part of—”

“I don’t know,” said Brianna. “I don’t think I have the energy to go to school while holding down this job. When I get home, I’m completely worn out.”

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