A Switch in Time

A Switch in Time

Short Fiction

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.”

“The reason,” said Sarah, “that you don’t have the energy is because of your weight. You live on junk food and sugar, don’t think I don’t know; I’ve seen how you eat and can only imagine what you do at home. I have problems myself, but you’ve let things go beyond the pale. As your boss and friend, I want you to do something about it and go on to improve your life professionally. Please consider what I’m saying and get back to me so I can see what I can do about getting you on the right path and out of this nursing aide shit. I am not going to stop pounding you about it.”

That evening, instead of opening a large bag of Fritos to be followed by half a bag of chunky Chips Ahoy, she cracked open a window and stared into the night. “What’s the meaning of all this?” she sighed.

In the background, the TV set to CNN mumbled on about the President’s latest behavior; his attempts to deflect attention from his outrageous comments and ruthless denial of help to victims of hurricanes and police brutality, and the real possibility of his starting a nuclear war.

For a moment, Brianna glanced at the relentless talking heads and felt tension rising in in her back and shoulders, then turned back to her view between two buildings onto what appeared to be an empty street. It seemed to her that the anxiety level of the world was rising to an almost unbearable pitch. It might, she fantasized, keep festering in her own body until it burst out the top of her head.

Suddenly, she heard a voice behind her that did not seem to be the TV. It sounded as if it was coming from the exact center of the tiny living room, though high up toward the ceiling. Her heart thumped alarmingly.

“Don’t be afraid,” it said. “You will not be harmed.”

Very slowly she turned around.

For a moment, her vision turned to white light, as if her head had lost all its blood, but then sight returned through a screen of golden sparks. Her mouth hung open.

There stood a creature seven feet tall and apparently made of glittering light. Through this light, she could make out vague female features. Sporadically, through the intense brightness, she saw a ripple of clothing, a multicolor gown of some kind. Was there hair on its head? Yes, there seemed to be and it was golden or silver, mutable like the clothing. The eyes looked dark, then finally green.

“What are you?” Brianna whispered.

“A Guardian, a senior fairy,” said the creature. “One of those who protect the world from those who would destroy it. I have a job for you. A long range assignment involving something possibly startling, although after a short while, you’ll adapt and get right into the swing of it.”

“Startling?” Brianna whispered. It amazed her that she could even talk.

“Yes, but as I said, you should do fine.”

“What is it?” Brianna wasn’t sure she could breathe.

The creature smiled. “You’re going to switch bodies with someone. In order to save the earth.”

Okayyyyy… if she were not actually looking at something totally incredible, something no one would believe including her David Icke buff cousin Eric, she would at this moment laugh. Help save the world, huh? Like a twelve-year-old boy in one of those we-can-only-use-you-because-you’re-a-video-game-master movies? But she was staring right at this astonishing creature and was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, nor did she suffer from a psychiatric disorder other than the depression. That she knew of.

“You are not crazy. You have been selected since you are a good soul and particularly suited for this job. You will end up enjoying yourself and if you remain as you are now in quality of spirit, your choices in life will prevent terrible things from happening. Are we clear?”

Her manner of speech was musical. Each sentence was like a melody

“Am I about to die?”

“The very opposite,” she said.

Brianna considered her options. Were there any? Could she say no to whatever was coming? Did she have any reason to say no other than fear? Her life now pretty much sucked. She had no one to care about and no one in the world cared about her other than Sarah, her boss and they weren’t really friends. There didn’t seem much to lose.

“All right,” she said, “what the hell. I mean…”

The fairy chuckled. “I do need to warn you. You are going to go to sleep and when you wake up, you’ll be different and in another time. Not too radical, just 1964.”

“1964? Why?” She was alarmed. No cell phones, computers or Netflix, and wow, not even Star Trek yet!

“So that the switch is roughly fair, age-wise,” explained the fairy. “Now lie down on the sofa there and shut your eyes.”

Clumsily and as if this were the most normal behavior in the world, Brianna obeyed, and then the Guardian bent down and touched her forehead.

 

It was a beautiful summer day when she stirred awake. Birds tweeted outside the open window and she was confused. Where were the two buildings she normally saw outside?

Sitting up, she felt such a stab of shock that her heart leaped alarmingly. Something was hideously wrong. Then she recalled the strange being. The memory was fading but clear enough for her to understand why she was where she was.

She bent her (well, his) head and took in her long, muscular white legs, then quickly looked at her forearms with their covering of sparse golden hairs. She turned her hands over and checked both sides—short fingers. She felt extraordinarily energetic and healthy. Her bare feet hit the floor and she rose to her full height of over six feet and darted about looking for a mirror. Finding one on the backside of a closet door, she saw the whole picture—a tall, teenage body, very white, male and Teutonic.

She wasn’t sure she liked it. Then she felt a strange sensation lower down and, wide eyed, saw that her new penis was standing at attention, to what exactly she wasn’t sure, just at being alive she supposed and well, she liked it.

“I’m a ‘he’,” she said aloud. “A very pale one, but not terrible looking.” From then on, she thought of herself as a “he”.

From down the hall, he heard “You Can’t Do That” by the Beatles blaring and knew that his sister, who was home for a couple of weeks, was probably ridiculously hopping around her room to the music, though he could hardly blame her; the Beatles were intensely groovy. He started to dance himself but then thought about the icky thing he had to do that day, to accompany his father as he collected rents from tenants.

Hell, he had just graduated from New York Military Academy and he wasn’t allowed any time off? Just right into the grind?

He took a moment to check out his hair in the mirror, pure yellow, and felt a stab of distaste. Why was he so sickeningly pale? If only he’d inherited his father’s dark hair and then the expression, “tall, dark and handsome” would fit him perfectly. Did white girls actually like this bland look?

“Now why on earth did I wonder that?”he asked the mirror. He shrugged. Whatever, what he did know was that the thought of collecting rents and for that matter of following in his father footsteps at all most certainly did not appeal to him. How he wondered had such a career ever seemed remotely interesting? And remembering that he was enrolled in Fordham for the fall, it hit him with a sort of terror that he did not want to major in business or economics and when he envisioned doing this and having to perform in these boring areas for the rest of his life, he started to hyperventilate.

“Calm down, calm down,” he told his reflection. “Today you’re going to tell him; you’re going to tell Dad that you’re changing your major. Get it over with. If he raises a ruckus, you’ll just go to Mom.”

But he’d better have another major to change to. He couldn’t simply say he didn’t want what he’d enrolled for without something to switch to? And would Fordham even be good for what he did want now? Weirdly, he wished there was a way to check some giant search machine that would tell him what he wanted to know, but then the idea vanished from his mind. Such a thing did not exist. The library… he’d go there later that day.

“Donnie!” screamed his sister. “Dad’s downstairs waiting and you’d better get going!”

He quickly washed, dressed and darted down the hall past the maid as she was heading to his room. “Hey, Martha!” he yelled at her happily, “how’s it going?” and she looked at him in shock.

“Where the hell have you been?” demanded his father, still at the dining room table dressed to the nines in his usual expensive business suit and silk tie, his emptied breakfast plate in front of him. “We have Brooklyn to see to today and once that’s done, I need to go out to Coney Island. Got a lot to show you and you’d better eat up now to buck up your strength. It’s gonna be a long day.”

Donnie sighed. The thought of what was coming made him feel almost like upchucking.

“What’s the matter with you?” said his father, taking a last swig of his coffee.

“Dad,” his son said slowly, feeling his heart pound, “I don’t want to major in business. I don’t want to go into real estate. I want to be a doctor.”

A long silence ensued.

“What?” his father finally said. “Why?”

“I don’t know. I just know that I do. I kind of feel it in my bones. A surgeon. I want to be a cardiac surgeon.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No,” said Donnie, growing more adamant and sure. He saw it now, saw himself in the operating room, thought about all the people—adults and children he could help and felt something swell inside his chest. He looked at his hands—he did not have long fingers but the ones he had were agile enough. His hands were strong and he could massage a heart if he needed to. Yes, that was what he would be and do. He was surprised—why had he not known this all along?

To his amazement, his father did not argue. This was somewhat unusual since the man was usually very dominating. “Well, son,” he said. “If this is how you want to play it, then all right. But I expect you to succeed, to go right to the top. Tomorrow we’ll check into premed at Fordham and if they don’t have the best program, we’ll look somewhere else. You don’t have outstanding grades or SAT scores, but when you have money, believe me, they forget all about those things. We’ll get you in. Wherever you want, son.”

Donnie laughed in relief and told the maid, “I have a huge appetite today, Cindy! Get me three eggs, sausage, a toasted bagel, and three pancakes with maple syrup! And OJ and coffee.”

“Yes, sir,” she said smiling and toddled off.

This was a great day to be Donald Trump. He was probably the happiest person on earth.

 

But Brianna Kinney was most definitely not happy. The former soul of Donnie Trump woke up to his idea of hell on earth.

“What’s this?” were his first words, as his eyes popped open and beheld his shabby surroundings. Second hand furniture, a dull, speckled brown rug on the floor, a window looking out on the sides of buildings, the faint odor of fried food in the air. And then his eyes widened in horror as he struggled to sit up and took in his own body. Bloated rings of fat and dark skin! Donald did not like any kind of dark skin. Had someone painted him during the night? Had he gone to bed drunk?

But he never drank. He’d just crawled into bed as usual, cellphone in hand ready to tweet and insult that perpetually yapping Elizabeth Warren and that traitor Rex Tillerson and every single news source other than FOX!

Getting up and off the horrible sofa was difficult. His body felt as if it were made of cement with two heavy hams hanging on this chest! Before he could manage to stand up, he fell back down and for a few seconds, passed out. When he reawakened, he had to pee like a bitch and stumbled around looking for a toilet. Finding it in the tiny bathroom, he saw himself in the mirror and knew for certain that he’d gone to hell. A woman! And one who was very far from being a Ten. And to top that off, he had to sit to pee.

The phone rang. Should he respond? He managed to find the damn thing between the couch cushions and answered.

“Brianna?” the person said. “Are you sick? You’re on first shift, did you forget?”

He felt a strange fog wash over him and somehow remembered the hospital and what he did there five days a week. OMG, he changed bedpans and cleaned up shit and vomit! He did every disgusting thing imaginable; he had no status whatsoever, he was some kind of bottom feeder! This was just not possible.

“I’m not coming in,” he said.

“Are you ill?” said the voice.

“You could say that,” he barked.

“Brianna, you don’t sound like yourself. What’s going on? Is someone there?”

He hung up.

If he had a gun, he’d shoot himself. Frantically, he moved his bulk to the kitchen and looked for something to numb himself, drugs or alcohol, but couldn’t find any. There were two large bags of candy, not gourmet chocolate, but cheap dollar store crap. In the fridge were bottles of soda, dried up pizza, two brown bananas and, god forbid, Wonder Bread. He found peanut butter and threw together a sandwich, stuffing the gooey mess into his mouth. Then he made another one and took it back into the living room. Hands shaking, he picked up the remote and flicked on the small TV. They have TV in Hell?

The President of the United States was talking, expressing sympathy to forest fire victims. He gasped. Who was this President? He didn’t recognize the man.

He peered closer at the screen. Some young bastard who looked no more than fifty. The imposter was talking like one of those damn East Coast elites, the kind of person he hated and who had always treated him like dirt.

Setting down the remote, he sobbed so hard that he started to choke on the sandwich. He coughed and coughed until his eyes were bloodshot. “Someone help me,” he cried, but no one was listening.

 

Margaret Karmazin has had stories published in literary and speculative fiction magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Confrontation, Mobius, Another Realm, Pennsylvania Review and Front Porch Review. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Spadina Literary Review and Licking River Review were nominated for Pushcart awards and another story, “The Manly Thing,” was nominated for the 2010 Million Writers Award. Her stories have been featured in several anthologies, including Pieces of Eight (Autism Acceptance) and Still Going Strong; a children’s book, Flick-Flick & Dreamer and YA book, REPLACING FIONA published by etreasurespublishing.com and a collection of short stories, RISK, available on Amazon. Her work has appeared in the US, the UK, Germany, Australia, Canada, Romania and New Zealand.

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