The following is an excerpt from the short story ‘Transition’ from Matthew Bakers collection ‘Why Visit America’ – this story is printed with the permission of Bloomsbury Books and Matthew Baker. Enjoy!
– Transition –
Of course, his family had heard of the operation, knew not only that such a thing was possible but that there were actually people doing it, and although his family was conservative, his family wasn’t radical by any means, in fact his family was really quite moderate, so much so that during elections in which the conservative candidate seemed especially intolerant or corrupt or feebleminded his family was occasionally even known to vote for the liberal alternative, and although his family was religious, his family certainly wasn’t the type to speak of issues in terms of good and evil, and for instance had no qualms about nudity in the media, and sometimes drank to excess, and wasn’t opposed to gambling, and believed in evolution, and although his family was poor, not destitute exactly, but decidedly working class, and held no college degrees, his family possessed no prejudice against people who elected to have vanity surgeries like liposuction and rhinoplasty, and were always heartened to meet people benefiting from bionic modifications such as pacemakers and prostheses, and enjoyed watching programs of an educational nature, and took naturally to new technologies—and yet there was something that set the operation apart from other issues, something that repulsed his family almost instinctually, something that filled his family with contempt, a fact his family had made no effort to hide, like back when the news had been flooded with stories about a famous architect who had transitioned and his family had spent an evening sitting around out on the stoop ridiculing the architect, or back when the news had been flooded with stories about a former model who had transitioned and his family had spent an evening sitting around out on the stoop bashing the model, and so the fact that his family found the concept utterly loathsome certainly would have been clear to Mason.
Then there was also his personality. He was profoundly reserved. He rarely smiled. He seldom laughed. He spoke clearly, without any animation. Although he often complained, he never became angry. He never seemed gloomy. He never appeared excited. He must have cried occasionally as a child, but no incidents came to mind specifically, and regardless he certainly hadn’t cried in the presence of his family since. He never showed signs of feeling powerful emotions.
So, considering that he was showing signs as he sat there at the table, that his hands were trembling, that his voice was shaking, that he was so nervous that the feeling was actually affecting him physically, and that he really wasn’t in the habit of joking about this type of thing—or, quite honestly, joking about anything—there seemed to be no doubt that he was serious when he interrupted a moment of silence to announce, or rather confess, that he was planning to have his mind converted to digital data and transferred from his body to a computer server.
Mason’s father, who was wearing his favorite apron, with the cartoon pelican across the chest and the maroon stain just beneath the pockets, gaped at him from the counter in the kitchen, frozen there in the midst of dipping a silicone spatula into a container of the latest batch of his secret sauce. Mason’s brothers, who planned to drive the motorboat down to parkland at dusk to go shrimping on the bayou, were reclined around the table in athletic jerseys and camouflage cutoffs, squinting at him with expressions of confusion. Mason’s mother had come in from the backyard when she had heard him arrive, wearing the straw hat and baggy caftan that she’d been sunning in, and she felt such a jolt of panic when he said what he said that she had to set her iced tea down onto the nearest surface, the stove, or else she surely would have dropped the bottle onto the floor.
Mason stared at the table, and then, as if suddenly daring to hope that the idea might be met with no resistance, looked up and blurted, “We’ll still be able to talk or whatever.”
His mother crossed the kitchen toward the table, feeling past the counter with her hands, her eyes never leaving him. He must have been coming from a shift at the supermarket. His uniform was rumpled. His nametag was askew. He’d always been scrawny, but recently he seemed especially frail. His eyebrows were so light in color that he didn’t seem to have eyebrows at all, which had caused him untold trouble on the playground as a child. He had watery eyes, a delicate nose, thin lips, and a weak chin. He looked like the type of person who’d probably have a milk allergy. She couldn’t explain what that was supposed to mean exactly. A neighbor had said it about him once though, and as soon as she’d heard it, she’d known it was true. She loved his face. As she slid into a chair at the table, she had to resist an urge to reach over and cup his jaw in her palms. The thought of losing him was terrifying.
“I mean, I’ll be able to chat whenever you want, I’ll be online literally all of the time,” Mason said, gaze falling back to the table.
His mother turned toward the counter, searching for some indication of how his father was reacting to the announcement. The heat from the sun was already leaving her skin, and the sensation seemed almost like a manifestation of her fear, as if the emotion were sapping the warmth from her skin as the feeling spread. She had been relaxing in a canvas lawn chair all morning, sipping from that bottle of iced tea, watching with amusement as sparrows hopped along the branches of the tree, basking in the occasional gust of wind that rushed across the backyard, letting loose tremendous yawns, stretching her limbs out, rubbing her eyes with the heels of her hands, scratching her belly periodically when the urge struck, savoring the tart aroma of the charcoal burning in the grill, enjoyably conscious of being dressed in a bright caftan and floppy hat. Coming in from that realm of bodily pleasure to be confronted with somebody who wanted to leave all of that behind was intensely jarring. She didn’t understand what he could be thinking.
Thank you to Bloomsbury and Matthew Baker
You can purchase a copy of Why Visit America here.
You can read our review of Why Visit America here.
You can read our interview with Matthew Baker here.
Matthew Baker is the author of the story collection Hybrid Creatures. His stories have appeared in the Paris Review, American Short Fiction, New England Review, One Story, Electric Literature and Conjunctions, and in anthologies including Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions. A recipient of grants and fellowships from the Fulbright Commission and the MacDowell Colony, among many others, he has an MFA from Vanderbilt University, where he was the founding editor of Nashville Review. Born in Michigan, he currently lives in New York City.
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