Some Strange Desire

by Ian McDonald


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20 November, 10:30 P.M.

But for the insistence of my perfumes urging him through the door at the top of the stairs, I think he would run in terror from what he is about to do. Often they do. But they are always drawn back to this door, by the sign of the yin-yang drawn in spilled vodka on a table top, by addresses on matchbooks or slipped under toilet partitions. They come back because nothing else can satisfy them.

The hahndahvi placed at their five cardinal points about the room fascinate him. He turns the icon of Filé Legbé over and over in his hands.

“This is old,” he says.

“Early medieval,” I say, offering him a drink from the cocktail bar. He takes a tequila in one nervous swallow. “The hahndahvi. The Five Lords of the tesh. We have our own private religion; a kind of urban witchcraft, you could call it. Our own gods and demons and magics. They’ve taken a bit of a theological bashing with the advent of molecular biology, when we realized that we weren’t the demonic lovers, the incubi and succubi of medieval legend. Just a variant of humanity. A subspecies. Two chromosomes separate me from you.” As I’m talking, he is undressing. He looks for a wardrobe where he can hang his smart suit and shirt and jazz-colored silk tie. I slide open one of the mirror-robes at the end of the room. His fastidiousness is cute. I pour him another tequila so that he will not be self-conscious in his nakedness and guide him to the Lloyd-loom chair at the opposite side of the room. As I seat him I smell it again, that uncertain something, masked and musked in a cocktail of his own sweat, aftershave and José Cuervo. Familiar.

He sips his drink, small, tight, fearful sips, as I strip down to my underwear. I slowly peel off panties, stockings, suspenders, kick them away. His penis comes up hard, sudden, taking him by surprise. The glass falls to the floor. The tequila spreads across the carpet. He begins to masturbate slowly, ecstatically. Standing naked before him, I slip into tletchen. I feel the familiar warmth behind my eyes as waves of endocrines and hormones surge out through my body. I will them into every part of me, every empty space, every cell, every molecule of me. I am on fire, burning up from inside with chemical fire.

“Do you know anything about mitosis and meiosis?” I ask him as the hormones burn through me, changing me. Moses supposes mitosis are roses. Moses supposes erroneously. “The old legend was that incubi and succubi visited humans to steal sexual fluids. Sperm, eggs. It’s true, insofar as we need haploid cells to self-impregnate every cell in our bodies and, in a sense, continually give birth to ourselves. That’s how we live five, six, seven hundred years, world events permitting. Though, of course, our reproductive rate is very very low.” I have found over the years that many of them find the talking as exciting as the physical act. It is the thrill of abandoning themselves to the implacably alien. As I speak my breasts, so full and beautiful, dwindle and contract to flat nipples; the pads of flesh on my hips and ass are redistributed to shoulders and belly; muscles contract my pelvis; my entire body profile changes from wide-hipped narrow-shouldered hourglass femininity to broad-shouldered, flat-chested narrow-waisted triangular masculinity. My genitals swell and contract and jut and fold themselves into new configurations. It excited me enormously, that first time when Mother guided me into tletchen, the ebb and swell of my genitals. Now what I sense is an incompleteness, a loss, when I change from female to male. But I can see what a shock of excitement it is to my client.

I come to him, let him savor my new masculinity. He runs his fingers over my flat chest, twists my flat nipples between thumb and finger, caresses my buttocks, thighs, genitals. As he thrills to me, I continue, my voice an octave lower.

“We’re essentially an urban phenomenon. We were there in the cities of the Nile and Indus, of Mesopotamia, of Classical Greece and Rome — some lesser members of their respective pantheons are tesh in disguise. We need a large population to draw genetic material from without becoming too obvious — in rural communities we have rather too high a profile for our liking. Hence the medieval legends, when the country was almost entirely rural, which died out with urbanization when we could become anonymous in the cities. My particular family came with the Norman invasion; but we’re comparative new kids on the block; the branch we bred into one hundred and fifty years back up in Edinburgh has been here since the end of the Ice Age.”

There are tears in his eyes. Pressed close within his embrace, I smell it again. Intimate. Familiar.

Too familiar.

I know what it is, and where I have smelled it before. But I am not finished with him yet. I step backward, out of the reach of his imploring fingers and summon up the tletchen energy again. Contours, profiles, genders melt and run in the heat of my hormonal fire. My body, my identity, my teshness, my Orion-ness dissolve into a multiplicity of possible genders. I blossom out of genderlessness into full hermaphroditism. Male and female, yin and yang in one. He is sobbing now, milking his penis in long, slow, joyous strokes. He is close now to complete sexual satisfaction for the first time in his life. I let him touch me, explore the mystery of my two-in-oneness. He stands, presses his body to mine, shuddering, moaning; long keening, dying moans. Exposed. Truly naked. From every pore of his body, every gland and mucous membrane and erogenous tissue, it pours out. The room whirls with his giddy perfume, the storm of chemicals is overpowering. Yes! Yes! Yes!

I look into his eyes.

“Do you know how we get our names?” I tell him. “We have public, goi, names, but among ourselves we use our tesh names. We are named after whatever constellation is in the ascendant on the night of our birth. My name is Orion. My sister is Cassiopeia.” I tell him, because I want him to know. I owe him at least a name. I open my mouth to kiss him, he opens to receive me. Thin ropes of drool stretch and break. I taste him. And he is right. It is the work of moment for my saliva glands to work the chemical changes. A drop of toxin falls from my tongue onto his. It runs like chain lighting from neuron to neuron. Even as the thought to react, the awareness that he may have been betrayed, is upon him, it locks him into rigidity.

He is easy to lift. In hermaphrodite gender we have the benefit of the musculature of both sexes; and the hormonal violence of tletchen gives us a supernatural strength. I carry him down the stairs and along the little landing into Cassiopeia’s room. I can feel his heart beating against my shoulder. He fits comfortably into the bedside chair.

Cassiopeia is suspended in a fever dream between sleep and waking; muttering, crying out, twitching, eyeballs rolled up in his head, crazy with hallucinations. I fetch the equipment from the Reebok box under the bed, run a line into Cassiopeia’s right arm, and let the blue, burned, poison drip from his arm into a basin on the floor.

Only his eyes can move. He sees the needle I have for him. Have I said elsewhere it is remarkable how much can be expressed by the eyes alone? Say a thing once, and you are sure to have to say it again, soon. He does not flinch as I run a line into his right arm and connect him to Cassiopeia. As I pump his blood along the old rubber tubes, I tell him the tale my grandmother told me, of Père Teakbois’s bargain and the price of St. Semillia’s mercy. At the very end, he deserves to know. And at the very end, I think he does begin to understand. Vinyl Lionel’s law. Everyone is someone’s pimp, someone’s prostitute. Everyone is user or used. Down in the tunnels, she had loved me. You had desired me. She had not loved me of her own free will. You did. I made her love me. I did not make you desire me. Understand, goi, why I could kill the pimp without a moment’s moral uncertainty, why now it is your blood pulsing down the rubber tube. We were both the used, she and I. You and he, the users. Believe me, goi boy, I bear you no malice. I do what I do because an older, harder mercy demands it.

When the last drop is gone, I close the tubes. Cassiopeia has lapsed into a quiet and tranquil sleep. Already the jhash pallor is gone from his skin, he is warm to my kiss.

I look at the boy, the rigor of my neurotoxins glazed over now with the serenity of death. When you went to those clubs and bars and made those contacts, did they never tell you the unwritten law of the user?

Every prostitute has his price.

In tesh, the words for love and passion are antonyms. It is not so different, I think, with you.



This story copyright © 1993 by Ian McDonald. Used by permission. All rights reserved.