Playing Dead

She shouldn’t have been out. But the air was delicious. Crisp and wet, she could feel the water in the air sharpening as the diplomatic restraint of the afternoon’s humidity released. The air disclosing to the stars its opinion of the sun. Her witness to this ritual undoing was made more precious by the knowledge she couldn’t know how soon she’d be walking at night again. Recovery from the procedure varied greatly and she couldn’t expect a quick return to normalcy. Not that she wanted to return to what had been normal ever again. The alarm on her phone whittled off minutes of sleep in her pocket, tracking how long she had before she needed to wake. She really shouldn’t have been out, but she was and it was worth it.

Photo by Artem Kovalev

Photo by Artem Kovalev

Her knees ached on the pavement, each step rattling through her legs. After tomorrow, this would no longer be a problem. Either she wouldn’t walk very much again, certainly not outside of her apartment, or the pain would be gone. This kind of procedure wasn’t usually approved for people like her. The mental states she flowed through, her childhood history, the people and things she found pleasure in, were all considered risks. The recovery would be too traumatic, it would trip wires in her mind setting off hair triggered pyrotechnics, incapacitating her. That’s what the psychiatrist had said. The doctor had simply told her, her sort couldn’t handle it.

That’s what she had been told when answering her way through screening after screening. Multiple choice questions, logic puzzles and traps. An endless stream of requests to repeat her story. No doubt she would be asked again tomorrow before the procedure began. She had been told the screens were needed to keep people like herself from attempting to fix what couldn’t be fixed, at least for them. But as far as the psychiatrist, the doctors, and the countless nurses who had cumulatively taken enough of her blood to replicate two or three of her selves, she was as normal as they were. It had been easy enough to make them believe it. Easy but tedious. She just had to learn, inside and out, what they were look for. What their perfect case was. She just needed to be everything she wasn’t.

She rounded a corner and walked south and out of her neighbourhood, toward the escarpment. The trees felt gigantic as did the houses in this part of town. She waited for a car to pass before crossing the street, her eyes absently following it until the car swerved suddenly, avoiding something on the road before speeding off into the night. Attentive now, her eyes focused on what the car had avoided. It was bigger than a cat, but the wrong colour to be a racoon. It moved, slowly. She stepped closer and saw its chest rise, unsteady.

“Oh,” she sighed, her eyes tightening, her heart dropping, “No.” It was a possum.

She also knew what she was now, and that she couldn’t stay that way. She knew exactly what kind of thing she would become.

She looked around and dug into her pockets feeling around for something to cover her hands. She had a couple of dog bags in her pockets from a walk with a friend earlier that day. A friend who had tried to talk her out of going to the clinic tomorrow. “That kind of thing-,” they had started, “that kind of procedure, isn’t safe. You’ve got healthy parts and that kind of technology is going to damage them. Make you some kind of, some kind of…, you know?” She did know. She also knew what she was now, and that she couldn’t stay that way. She knew exactly what kind of thing she would become. Her friend’s dog had seemed much more understanding. In the dull haze of the streetlight, it seemed like the most useful thing to come out of their conversation was a couple of bags.

The possum was heavier than she expected. She laid it down on the lawn and placed herself beside it. “Gghhhaahh,” the possom sighed slow and long, head shifting on the grass, as if trying to find comfort.

“It looks pretty bad little one,” she said, lightly holding one of the possum’s paws between two fingers.

“Ihhtt fff-fff-eeells bbhhhaaaadd,” the possum sighed, paw tightening around her fingers. She felt the warmth of the possum’s leathery paw.

“I’m calling a vet. You need a doctor,” she said matter of factly, pulling out her phone. “After tomorrow, this won’t happen anymore,” she thought, dialing Animal Services. That was one of the side effects of the procedure, losing her—what had the psychiatrist called it?—zoolingualism. It was largely frowned upon by her family and tended to make her friends uncomfortable. One less way she’d have to fake being normal.

“Whaaaat doooooo yooouuu, uuggghhh, mmmeeeeeaan, ‘tttooommmoorrrooowww’?” The possum struggled a reply to her thought. Why couldn’t humans read her mind like this? So much could have been easier. She might not have even wanted the procedure. The phone was ringing.

“I’m going to have the procedure tomorrow. I probably won’t be able to connect with you folks anymore,” she sighed, idly pulling up the grass, “That’s the hardest part.” The possum shifted on the lawn and groaned. “Do you need something? Water? Is there someone I could call?” The phone was still ringing.

“Uggghh. Yyyyyeeeeeeehhsssss. Ssoomme wwaatterrrr,” the possum replied.

Someone at animal services picked up, “Hi, animal services, please hold,” the voice said, followed by cheery hold music. She took out a water bottle from her purse and poured some into one of her hands. The possum gently lapped at it. “Uuummmm, tttthhhhaaaaannnks. Mmyyy ccchhiilllddd, llliiivveesss tttwwooo ssstttrrreeetttsss eeaasstt.” The possum struggled. She kept holding his paw.

“I can go run over to find her. I live close to that street, I might even know her.” She started to stand, but the possum held her finger’s tighter as the hold music seemed to get perkier.

“Nnnoooo. Nnnnooootttt nnnooowwww. Ssssstttttaaaaayyyy.”

“But once tomorrow comes—the procedure—I can’t tell your daughter anything.” She felt panic, this was the first time this talent felt relevant to her, not just freakish.

“Hhhaaaahhhaaahaaaa,” the possum struggled to laugh. “Yyoouu wwiiilll sstttiiillll tttaaalllkkk tttooo uussss. Bbbuuuttttt ppppeeeeoooopppplllleeee wwwiiiillll tttttthhhhiiiinnnnkkk yyyyyoooouuuu cccccaaaaannnn’tttt.”


“Ha aha aaacckk coff cofff!” The possum’s chuckle disintegrated into a cough, “Wwwaaatttteeerrr.”

“Of course,” she poured more water into her hand and thought about what the possum had told her. “People don’t lose this?” She thought. “But everything I’ve read, everything I’ve heard…”

“Yyyooouurrrr kkiinnddd jjjuussstttt hhhiiiddeeessss iiitt,” the possum interrupted.

“And why not,” she thought. “All the stress about being myself comes from everyone else’s reactions to it. So you’re saying, I won’t lose this, but I just won’t want to tell anyone?”

“Yyyeeessss. yyyyoooouuuu wwwooonnn’ttt ffffeeellll yyyyoooouuuu hhhaaaavvveee ttttooo.”

“Hello animal services, how can I help you?” The voice returned.

“Yea-um, my friend-er, um I’m with a possum on Birch St. by the school, and they’re in a bad way. Got hit by a car.”

“Are you sure it’s not just faking it? They like to play dead, you know,” the voice replied, bored.

“Yea, I’m definitely sure they are not faking it.”

“What, did it tell you?” the voice challenged.

“Uh,” she paused, she hadn’t expected this reaction. She looked at her hurt friend, and thought about tomorrow, “Yes. They told me.”

“Oh okay, that changes things, I’ll be right there. By the school on birch?” The voice was serious now, concerned.

“Yea. By the school,” she hung up the phone. “They are coming.”

“Ttthhaaannnkkk yyyooouuu. Wwwwaaaiittt wwwiittthhh meee.” The possum’s paw tightened around her finger. “Pppllaaayyy ssooommeee mmmuusssiiiccc.”

She took out her phone and put on some quiet beats. “My friend made this. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Yyeesss. Vvveeerrryyy.”

And they waited.   

jiaqing wilson-yang is a transsexual writer living in Tkaronto on dish with one spoon territory, traditional lands of the Haudenosaunee and the Mississaugas of the New Credit. Her work can be found, now and in the near future in, Room Magazine, Poetry is Dead, Ricepaper Magazine, and Maisonneuve. Her first novel, Small Beauty, won the 2016 Lambda Literary award for Transgender Fiction.