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July 28, 2004

Rude awakening

I've written another short story. Hope you like it (I warn you that is not exactly, shall we say, verité in style).


John’s eyes open gradually to a dim, fuzzy gloom. His chest feels strangely heavy and his arms and legs listless and drained. The blur gradually ebbs away and noises emerge: thick, wallowy words, more tune than sentence, spoken as though through honey. They too condense like the scene into being once more the world John knew before the blackness. Then smell comes to his attention: sharp and chemical the kind of odour that coats the back of your tongue. John’s tongue is dry and furry: he asks for water.

‘Sorry dear?’ A face bearing down. Lipstick and glasses. Mother.

John feels his jaw moving awkwardly and his tongue hesitant.

‘Oh. Water. He’d like some water. Geoff – fetch some water. He’ll get some water.’

John gazes back at his mother. Something is wrong.

‘You’ve been in a coma. Yes, a coma. For a very long time. Two years.’ Each statement punctuated with a longer pause.

‘You’re taller,’ mumbles John.

‘Here’s your father.’

Father holds a glass to John’s mouth. John sips, the warm, slightly clinical water dribbling down his chin. ‘No, something else.’

Father hands – there’s something wrong. And his height. ‘Hands? Too short too.’

‘He’s not making sense. That’ll be the coma. Get the doctor, Geoff.’

‘No. It’s wrong.’ John is trying to understand why his father is wearing a dress. Why his hands are smooth. And why he is sporting a pair of breasts. Articulating this is more difficult. ‘It’s all wrong.’ And his mother is wearing a t-shirt underneath which curly chest hair sprouts awkwardly. ‘It’s all wrong.’

A doctor appears at the door in the hospital room, (s)he has the body and legs of a petite woman and the head of a bear-like man. ‘Can I help?’

‘I think he’s woozy,’ says mother.

‘It’s be the headswap,’ says the doctor, confidently.

John feels his jaw dropping and consciousness slipping away.


John awakes more quickly but still with the gloopiness of ear and eye. His parents and the doctor surround his bed. His mother/father sitting at the end hoping no-one will notice as he rearranges the contents of his pockets.

‘There. He’s back,’ begins the doctor.

‘Can you tell him?’

‘Certainly.’ (S)he beams doctorly warmth at John. ‘Whilst you were in your coma – you had an accident, by the way, hit by a bus, you were on your bike – we all swapped heads. There. End of story.’ (S)he turns to leave.

‘End of story?’ John croaks. ‘Everyone?’

The doctor thinks about it. ‘Hmm. Almost everyone. To tell you the truth it was a while back and I think we’ve all forgotten about it now.’

‘But who… whose idea was it?’

‘I blame the government,’ says the head of John’s father.

Everyone laughs except John.

‘But how?’

‘It’s surprisingly simple, really. Turns out people have been doing it for centuries. A quick twist, lift and off. I takes a bit of a knack, I’ll grant you, and you can’t do it too often or else your head will fall off!’ Everyone nods, knowingly.

‘13 August, two years ago, it was,’ adds the head of mother. ‘Everyone. All in one day. It felt a bit strange, now I think about it, but you get used to it.’

‘But why?’ John is now blinking rapidly.

‘I suppose we were a bit bored. It was the summer. There wasn’t much on,’ explains his father’s head. ‘Not that hasn’t been without a few difficulties but on the whole it’s been good.’

‘Who was that business man?’ Mother-head is smiling and waves both hairy hands, trying to put her finger on it.

‘The one who swapped with his secretary? Oh yes, that has been a real success. It’s been very democratic too. And there’s the chancellor–‘

‘–he’s become PM–’

‘–it was his idea–’

‘–not that much has changed!’

Everyone laughs again. Something dawns on John. He lifts his hand gradually to his chest.

Mother-head smiles. ‘Ah yes, we’d better explain. Doctor?’

‘At the time of the swap we didn’t have enough beds in all of the wards. So we put you in with the female geriatrics and well…’

July 28, 2004 in Fiction | Permalink


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