Elaine Vitale

So, I’ve been nursing a novel for years. In Spain, I finished a first draft. Later, I couldn’t do the rewrite. Then, I offered up fragments for the Wallace Stegner writing fellowship at Stanford. I did not make the cut. Alas.

Here are some of those fragments serialized in reverse chronological order. I know, that messes it all up, but blogs are about reverse chronology, so when I get to the first bit, I’ll encourage readers to start there and go X posts…

However, there’s a non-linear concept here. The novel was about an old folks home in which a nurse and an orderly hear the stories of several residents. Thus, it was a frame story, consequently the chapters could stand alone.

Except there were breaks, interludes that followed a linear sequence – so that bit may get messed up. Anyway, groove to it as broken artifacts, palimpsests, or – all together now – randomness…

Corazon was watching Elaine sleep. Rather, she was watching her breathe, as stillness it was, expecting that any one of her slow breaths could be her last. She was fading, but not too fast. As she was always full of surprises, again her eyes fluttered open. Without moving, they looked at Corazon and smiled.

In a whisper of voice she said, “Corazon dear, I see you are sitting down. Good, well, here’s another story, but bless me, it’s not related to any husbands, though it could be. It was sort of the unfinished idea of an old boyfriend, who by the way was very sympathetic to women, and perhaps even wanted to be one? Anyway, it’s science fiction and I just now dreamt of how it ends.”

“You see, once upon a long time ago in the future there were a couple of couples, four scientists, perhaps swingers don’t you know. They were sitting around bemoaning an imminent, disastrous fate for poor old earth, what with climate change, overpopulation, pollution, looming doom and what not, when they hatched a little plan. They would hijack a spacecraft and relocate life on a new planet. Two of them were astrophysicists, and had access and ability to hijack the space ship. The other two were biologists, and had the DNA of thousands of lifeforms tucked away into a suitcase, maybe two suitcases. Sort of a mobile seed library for life on earth – don’t you, well, I don’t know.”

Sitting up in bed, Elaine continued, “Their problem was, because of the cruising speed of their spaceship, they’d have to go into cryogenic suspended animation for what would be around two thousand years, 20 centuries of stony sleep, in order to reach the appropriate planet that they’d determined would sustain life. In order to operate their spaceship, which was quite large, more a space station, and required a crew of hundreds, they needed people, special people.”

“So really, the story is about them, the special people, the ‘Numans’ – that’s what they’ll be called. You see, you had to have a group of people, a new race, that would not overpopulate the finite space of the spacecraft, who could run it effectively, and then eventually die out like an old plastic bag once they reached the ‘New Earth.’ So, our biologists create a new kind of human, a numan, and how they live – in comparison to us – therein lie the morals of this story. The battles of the second sexes, the Looking Backward metaphors. The old plastic that doesn’t evolve, the social hierarchy that dissolves. And here’s where it takes a turn for the weird. Numans, in spite of their differences, copulate like humans, but at the climax of the act, instead of ejaculate from the man’s penis, a small bean pops out of the woman’s mouth – with all the same turgid drama and gravitas as that nutty clit gravy gets. The fruit of their orgasm, if you will.”

“Oh my,” said Corazon, “I would if I could, but this has become quite strange. Miss Elaine!”

With a reflective animation, Elaine said, “If the couple wish to create a child, they simply put the bean in the man’s bellybutton, it is absorbed in a kind of space-lapsed horizontal gene transfer and he becomes pregnant.”

“Ha ha ha,” Corazon laughed, startled at the thought. “I didn’t realize this was a comedy.”

“Yes, I suppose it’s kind of funny, but there are practical applications to this arrangement, and some of the biology is not unknown in the animal kingdom, so please bear with me. Once the man – the ‘numan’ man – becomes pregnant, during gestation he undergoes a metamorphosis and turns into a woman. Transgenderization if you will. During this process his genitalia – package, I’ve heard tell – wither and fall off and he develops a vagina and grows breasts. He, now she, then delivers the baby as women do. But when the baby is born, it is always and only a manchild.” “She” always begets a “he,” whatever pronouns those numans might use…

“Oh my goodness Elaine, you are hysterical,” said Corazon, “such an imagination.”

“No hysterectomies here thank you,” said Elaine. “Please consider the advantages of this arrangement. Each couple can only have one child, or rather each person can only have one pregnancy. And every person gets to have the experience being both sexes during their lifetime. The nature of sexuality has completely evolved, perhaps revolved, older women having sex with younger men, then becoming lesbians. Of course, one has to decide what is to become of marriage, monogamy, and the nature of the family. But you also have advantages in managing only boy children in a society run only by women. All Oedipus, no Electra. There is a natural order and natural stability. Not the kind of chaos we have amongst humans, especially nowadays.”

Corazon thought about it, “I suppose you may be onto something, but what is the point?”

“Darling! The point of the scientists in this story is to have these numans run the spacecraft for thirty or so generations during which time their population will remain the same. I suppose there might be the occasional fatal accident, or the occasional set of twins, but the numan population remains constant. Then, when they all arrive at New Earth, the scientists will awaken from their cryogenic suspended animation and activate their suitcases, which are kind of like little technological Noah’s Arks. They will repopulate the new planet with species from Earth. The numans may continue, but likely will die out over time.”

“Ah,” said Corazon, still intrigued and contemplative, and just getting it.

“So here is the twist. Of course things don’t go as planned. The Gods laugh and chaos brings reason, in the form of happenstance, to this new world order. The black swans appear.”

“Oh, I’ve heard of them. Jesse says that we are all black swans, but especially him.” Corazon exclaimed and chucked.

“During the voyage there are mutations biologically, mutinies politically, rebellions among the crew, anomaly analogies, unanticipated events. The sets of twins and the fatal accidents throw off the balance of their planned community. Then there are young numen who refuse to get pregnant and don’t become nuwomen, and older nuwomen who don’t want to have anything to do with the young numen. And there is jealousy, ” said Elaine with gravitas.

“Ah ha,” said Corazon.

“Yes, all those human foibles, those vices, that march of folly that led to the havoc from which the scientists think they are escaping. They are happening again right there on the spaceship while they sleep. The bad dream is new reality. The numans are different, but not so different. They are like all of us who think we are unique, special, one-of-a-kind, thus unkind to others. We are the same, whither race, class, species, we just want to feel ourselves.”

“Ah,” said Corazon.

Elaine paused for effect, then continued forcefully, “Things fall apart. The centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the new world. And this rough beast of a spaceship slouches toward a brave, new world to be born.” Elaine paused. “Or it would if I could write the book, but I shan’t. If I could, it would reflect how we could be, but are. I’d show the worst part of our best selves and the best part of our worst selves. I’d try to give the reader an out-of-body experience, so they can perhaps look back and see themselves as they are, and perhaps love themselves, and our lonely planet, a bit more.”

“Ah that is a beautiful idea Miss Elaine,” said Corazon, “so how does it end?”

“Well, maybe it’s a dream and the scientists wake up realizing that they need to take care of this planet. That we can’t just leave it like so much rubbish. Maybe they are not awakened from their stony sleep and the numans go on to successfully inhabit the new earth, the terra recognita. Or maybe the scientists, once they awaken, see what has become of their creation, and it changes how they restart life on new earth. Or maybe they question whether or not they should restart life as we have known it at all.”

“But you said you had figured out how to finish the story,” said Corazon, “which one is it?”

“Well darling, why don’t you decide? My ending is just an ending. People, humans, numans, we all want happy endings. I’ve realized that sometimes some things are just over, everybody dies. Its just the end, my beautiful friend.”

“Oh my,” said Corazon, “that’s no fun. I want to go have some beans.”

And both ladies laughed out loud, looked at each other, and laughed out loud again.

“Oh thank you for listening to that foolishness, my dear heart, Corazon. Once again I’ve worn myself out telling you a story. I want to elaborate on that ending, my ending. It is coming soon and I need your help. I’ve written you a note that I’d like you to read and think about. Let’s not talk about it until tomorrow, or as Twain might suggest, the day after tomorrow, but I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I’d be honored if you would accept my proposal. Here you go dear.” Elaine reached into the drawer of her bedside table and withdrew an envelope which she handed to Corazon.

“Open that when you get home, or perhaps when you’re with Jesse, he’s a part of it too.”

Corazon raised her eyebrows and looked at the envelope. “Well Otay, Miss Elaine,” she said, realizing that Elaine had transitioned, in a flicker, from a fanciful tale to a serious request.

“Now I need to get some rest dear,” and with that, Elaine closed her eyes and went back to sleep.

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