Michelle was standing before the large screen, the fingers of her right hand touching the face frozen there. I could only imagine what she was thinking and how tormented she must have been. The haunting image was staring back at her through unblinking eyes, eyes that were not her own.
Susan, sitting next to me was quiet gazing down at her hands which were pressed tight against her lap. Poor girl, I thought, she had to be both confused and embarrassed. I studied her face, wondering whether my attraction for her was a result of her youthful beauty or because of the overtures she'd directed at me. Were her overtures a product of promiscuity, or was she drawn to me as a knight in shining armor to protect her? Could there be more to our unlikely kinship?
Michelle pulled back the hand that had been touching the face on the screen and held it up before her. She turned it and manipulated the alien digits. She appeared to be repulsed by it, realizing that it at once did and did not belong to her.
"Look, I know the two of you cannot possibly know or understand what I'm going through," Michelle said facing us, "but I don't want or need your pity. I do need your help. I have nowhere else to turn."
"Like it or not, we are caught up in the middle of this," I said to her. "Of course, I'll help you. I'll do all that I can. I don't mean to speak for Susan, but I'm sure..."
"Of course I will! I can't walk away without seeing this through," Susan asserted with sincere resolve.
"That image of me," Michelle said pointing at the TV screen, "That image of my body ... Of Michael's soul ... It haunts me. Behind my eyes, he is looking at me ... Looking for me, as I am looking for him." He raised his hands and rubbed at the corners of eyes where tears had begun to form.
Susan went to Michelle and placed her arms about him. "It's true I don't know what you're going through. I can't even imagine such a thing. One thing I can do, is to relate to the woman in you, one woman to another."
"Thank you. Thank you both," she said returning Susan's embrace. "You know what's maddening, really maddening? I am a woman, despite this male shell, I have the feelings of a woman. This body ... It doesn't respond to my emotions the way my body would. I want to cry ... I need a good cry, but all I can manage are just a few tears ... like now, only watery eyes."
I cleared my throat to gain their attention, "It should have occurred to me that a human body and the mind develop together during a lifetime of experiences and stimuli. Another mind being introduced into a body would not be ... uh ...synchronized, if not rejected altogether."
Susan uttered, "We can put a man on the moon, but we know nothing about the brain and how or why it works."
I knew it was time to change the subject, even though the matter I needed to broach would be far more painful. "Michelle," I said, "What happened that night, after you and Michael left the lab?"
She pressed the power button on the DVD player and watched her image fade from view. She was about to turn the TV itself off but I stopped her stating, "The news is on. I've been out of touch. I need to know what's happening in the world and what they are saying about us." Over the years as an investigative reporter I had learned to watch several TV monitors and carry on a conversation at the same time and still be able to digest most of it.
"Michael and I decided it wasn't wise to go to any of the clubs on or near the campus," she began. "We were undergrads there and we both assisted some of the professors in their classes. I even served as a substitute teacher at times. We didn't want to be recognized, and we would've been. Instead we hailed a taxi and went over to the Financial District. I knew of a little place over there. It's like a dungeon, a dark basement bar off of Devonshire Street."
"The New Place!" I exclaimed.
Why yes," she responded in surprise. "You know it?"
I nodded and replied, "It's the busiest little bar that nobody knows about in Boston." The mention of the little dive brought thoughts of Stu the editor of my paper to mind. It was there I had left a message on his voice mail for him to meet me at three o'clock that very day. We often referred it by another name, The Attic, an intended antithesis, so that no one would be able to find us, especially if we didn't want to be found.
"Isn't that the place where they have pictures of people framed with toilet seats hung above the bar?" Susan asked.
Dumbfounded I turned to her, "You've been there too?"
"Many times." she said and then lowered her head. "That's where I met Billy." I offered my arms and she came to me.
There were just damned too many coincidences and connections to allow me to feel at ease over this whole affair. My head was spinning and my brain felt like it was turning into mush. Ironically as recently as six months before, my own picture had been in one of the those toilets seats, immortalized in the bar's so-called Wall of Shame. Though I wasn't obligated to, I felt there was no reason to divulge that fact.
"Anyway," Michelle continued, "The place was crowded as usual for a Saturday night. You couldn't scratch an itch without scratching someone else's itch, if you know what I mean. Michael said it was a nuts-to-butts kind of evening. We had probably only taken a sip or two from the 16-ounce draught beers we'd ordered when Michael decided it was time to have some fun. I remember now that he'd reminded me that 'it was all in the name of science.' He left me standing alone and headed to the bar where a guy got up and offered him the stool on which he'd been perched.
Well, I decided I should try to go along with our 'research.' Michael is a good looking guy and I had already noticed that I'd turned the heads of several of the women in the place. I have to admit that I'd never tried to pick up anyone in a bar before that night. It was unsettling to say the least to hit on a woman, despite the fact that I was in a masculine body. In my mind's eye, I felt like I would be acting like a ..."
"A lesbian?" Susan asked finishing her sentence.
"Yeah, like a lesbian. It disgusted me." An alarmed look came to her, "Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against lesbians. It's just not my cup of tea to be with a woman. I have several friends who are ..." Her voice trailed off.
"We get your drift," I said. "...And Michael? Did he seem to have a problem interacting with the men?"
"I don't think so. If he did, he didn't show it," Michelle replied. Suddenly her hands flew up to her forehead and she cried out in pain, "Ow! Not again!" Her eyes rolled back and she shouted, "Who's that knocking at my brain?" The male body in which she existed slumped to the floor.
"Michelle!" Susan called to her. "Are you ... Okay?"
I rushed to her side and helped her back to her feet. "What's wrong?"
Still pressing her palms against her head she answered weakly, "I've been having these migraine attacks ... ever since the switch. It feels like someone is in my head banging the inside of my skull with a sledge hammer!"
"Should we call a doctor?" I asked.
"No. No doctors, please. I've been thinking ... Wondering if that maybe ... Maybe the transfer wasn't complete. Maybe a part of Michael's mind ... A splinter of his subconscious mind, perhaps ... Is still in this body ... Inside this brain." She again yelped in pain.
At her request I walked her to the bedroom and Susan raced to the bathroom medicine cabinet to retrieve a bottle of Advils and a glass of water. As she lie back I suggested, "Then it might be that Michael, in your body, has been suffering from these same headaches?"
"Yes. I hope so," she replied. Then she smiled, "It would mean that he is alive!"
She sat up for a moment and accepted the water in one hand and the pills in the other from Susan. She remained propped up on her elbows and studied us for a moment. "Look, I've been following the news and I know you have no place to go. There's a door behind the bookcase. It's a spare bedroom with a full bath. You're welcome to use it as long as you like."
"Thank you, Michelle," Susan said, quickly speaking for the two of us. She winked at me, a sheepish grin stretching across her face.
I closed the bedroom door behind us and whispered to her, "Susan, this isn't the time ..." She pressed a finger against my lips.
She grabbed my arm and yanked, "..And this isn't the time or place to deny me again, Mr. Benjamin Bering!"
"Susan, you do know that the moment my head hits a pillow I'll be out like a light."
"Shush, you," she ordered. "No problem. I'll throw the pillows on the floor. If you think you're going to sleep in there ... Think again."
I sighed heavily, "Susan, you are incorrigible!"
"If that means horny, you are so right!"
(To be continued Friday 1/9, part 13, A Splinter of the Minds Eye.)