When Howard Boar woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed into a female character from one of his own novels.
He did not notice at first, because he was too busy cursing his triple-quilted comforter, which had tangled maddeningly around his feet, and grumbling at the infernal cooing of the early morning pigeons. He had three whole classes to teach that day—“Sex and Early Modern Literature”, “Sex in the Victorian Imaginary”, and “Sex and the Eternal Wench”—and he wasn’t going to teach his best if he hadn’t slept his usual ten hours. Damn the birds! Where was the coffee? He had hired a homely Guatemalan woman to do his household chores after his wife left, and if she wasn’t going to be worth ogling, she could at least bring him a damn espresso on time. At least she wouldn’t try to poison it, like his wife always had for some reason.
Howard rose from his bed, and immediately fell over. This was not in itself unusual, since he was often still drunk first thing in the morning, but today something was different. Pulling himself to a standing position and wiping the sweat from his brow, he tried to figure out why his body felt so…improbable. He noticed a tremendous sense of weight at his front, as though two lead weights had been attached to his nipples. When he looked down, he noticed with shock that he had two enormous, perfectly spherical breasts.
Reeling with shock, he stumbled to the magnificent oak armoire and pulled it open to look at the mirror on the inside of the door. What he saw nearly gave him a heart attack. Standing there, where his own body should be, was the body of Diana Lestrange.
Yes, it was unmistakable. The tousled red hair, the girl-next-door freckles, the eyes that suggested a profound cocktail of unspeakable sadness and insatiable lust. He had transformed into a woman he knew so well, yet had never met—the main love interest from his second novel, A Professor Darkly.
Howard twisted and turned to inspect his new body, running his hands over himself for perhaps rather longer than was necessary. He was completely naked, a five-foot-two ninety-pound curvy goddess with a tattoo of a caged songbird on his shoulder. His state of shock at his circumstances was suddenly overwhelmed by pride at the brilliance of the tattoo: ah yes, that had been a very good metaphor of his. You see, the bird represented Diana, and the bird was caged because Diana felt trapped. Those philistines at the Pulitzer committee probably never picked up on the symbolism, hence why they awarded the prize that year to some dumb broad from Pakistan or…one of those places.
Drawing his eyes away from the tattoo, he inspected the rest of his creation. Everything was as he’d written: he had Diana’s porcelain skin, her plump peach ass. And then, of course, there was the single imperfection. Even the best love interests require some physical flaw, else the critics start yapping about ‘wish fulfillment’ and implying you’re somehow shallow. In Diana’s case, the imperfection was a scar on her back where her abusive father had brutally whipped her as a child. Howard was pleased to see that just as he’d imagined, it was a very elegant scar, and not gross or a turnoff or anything. (The protagonist of A Professor Darkly—what had Howard named him? Hubert? Harold?—comments insightfully on the scar when they first make love, telling her “I thought you were like a perfect vase, but I adore you even more now I know that you’re broken”. Afterwards, he writes a poem about her, which receives universal acclaim and causes his ex-wife to drown herself.)
Three hours later, Howard had come to terms with the situation and decided to make the best of it. He would go to the university as usual, and tell the class he, Diana, was a substitute–after all, it would be unfair to the poor students if they lost the chance to hear his dramatic readings of historical erotica. (Many of them had already missed so much, given the terrible epidemic of viruses and broken legs and dead aunties that seemed to be behind his classes’ mysteriously low attendance rate.) In fact, Howard had concluded that this Dianafication was a good thing. After all, there was so much obsession with “diversity” these days—he could probably get a new grant just by walking in! Not that he had anything against diversity of course, but with all the women and the minorities it seemed everyone had forgotten about the most oppressed souls of all: white men with brilliant ideas. Where was their Angela Davis? Now at last, he would be heard.
There were some aspects to his Dianafication that were a little…unexpected, he had to admit. After coming to terms with his new body, he’d tried to relax by going down to the kitchen and making some breakfast—still naked, for why cover a work of art? He’d been concerned about the maid, scurrying about downstairs, but without ever revealing himself he’d managed to masterfully let her know she should leave, simply by hiding and throwing shoes at her. Fortunately they’d already established shoe-throwing as code for ‘you may leave’, a tradition the Boar family had kept with ‘the help’ going back four or five generations. (The family had fallen on hard times in recent decades, after a tragic misadventure into windmill investments, but Howard was certain he could return the family to greatness, as soon as his publisher started returning his calls.)
Breakfast was delicious, but messy, as his hot-air balloon breasts kept spilling onto the plate. He was having trouble adjusting to his new center of gravity; when he dropped his spoon and bent down to pick it up he fell entirely off the chair and took six minutes to get back up. Worst of all was the aftermath. When he finally got back up to the bedroom—the negotiation between his body and the stairs being rather a tricky one—he saw in the mirror that after just four eggs, six slices of bacon and a mere half-saucer of cream, his stomach was no longer completely flat. The impractical breasts were one thing, but Howard was horrified to learn his perfect creation could bloat. He thanked God that at least he wouldn’t be having any periods. He’d given Diana a tragic disease of the ovaries, one that simultaneously made her very fragile while also meaning Howar—Hubert could have clean sex with her all month round.
(Incidentally, the bloating was not the first nasty discovery Howard had made that morning. Before breakfast, he had done what any red-blooded man would do upon being transformed into a beautiful woman, and this was how, at fifty-four, Howard discovered he was extremely bad at sex.)
Forget the damn stomach, he thought. Time to get dressed and make my premiere as the university’s hot new lady professor.
His wife had left most of her clothes in the closet; he found them a little frumpy for his taste but they would have to do. Unfortunately, none of her shirts would fit over the gargantuan triumphs on his chest, so that was Plan A out the window. No matter–he could take one of his own shirts and style it into a dress. His shirts, after all, were rather roomy, since Howard was an aesthete, a gourmand, an epicure if you will (not like his wife, who at his last eyeballing was over 130 pounds; a shame how she’d let herself go). Eventually, after a lot of pulling and wrestling, he managed to get a shirt over his two luscious Jupiters and set about accessorizing.
Howard arrived at Darlingboys University with a spring in his step and a brand-new pair of shoes from Chinatown. (Diana’s shoe size, as he had specified multiple times in the novel, was too small to purchase in American stores, so she made all her footwear purchases in Chinatown. The novel even featured a very funny scene with Diana and a Chinese salesman, which had been unfairly maligned by one humorless reviewer as “the most offensive thing to happen to Asian-Americans since the internment camps”.) He was somewhat disconcerted by the looks he was getting—men certainly did seem to stare a lot—but it was a novel experience, at least, and he was distracted from his discomfort by thoughts of his lecture. He arrived at the classroom five minutes before his first class was due to start, and found Harris, his TA, lounging around with his feet up on the desk (very promising young man, a Yale boy, and always with the most perfectly-pressed slacks). Howard cleared his throat—a throat which was “dainty and white, like a swan, or a hauntingly beautiful corpse”—expecting Harris to jump to attention as he usual. But when Harris turned and saw Diana, something was different. Rather than stand and give his usual welcoming smile, he lolled back in the chair and gave only a condescending smirk.
“Well, hell-o. I suppose you’re looking for Intro to Women’s Studies? You’re in the wrong place, sorry—it’s down the hall. Don’t worry about the confusion, the campus maps can be so tricky.”
Howard blanched. Something felt off. “A-actually, I’m taking Howard Boar’s classes today.”
“Oh? Hungry to learn about sexuality in literature, I see. Well, if you want any private tutoring, let me know.”
Howard’s skin (“lightly speckled, like a fresh egg”) crawled all over. What was wrong with Harris? He’d always been so charming and polite—a younger version of Howard himself. Perhaps Diana would have to be stern.
“I’m not a student. The professor is sick today and I’m teaching his class. Now get out of my damn seat.”
Harris’ slimy demeanor turned to a scowl, two red spots appearing in his pallid patrician cheeks. “I suppose nobody bothered to tell you, but I’m Professor Boar’s teaching assistant. If he’s sick, I can cover his class just fine. I know the syllabus, and the topics are too complex for a…substitute. Darlingboys isn’t just any university, you know. I have to ensure that anyone who teaches this class is suitably qualified.”
Howard wanted to scream—he was not just qualified, he was the pre-eminent scholar in his field!—but given how troublesome it would be to reveal his true identity, all he could do was make mild assurances that yes, he was familiar with the topic of sexuality in literature.
“Oh really? What’s your opinion of Marshall’s theory of the primordial ur-prostitute?”
Howard couldn’t believe it. This little twerp was trying to test him. He actually agreed wholeheartedly with ur-prostitute theory, but he knew that if he simply said that, he would sound as though he didn’t know what ur-prostitute theory was at all, and was simply nodding along with Harris. He decided to try a different tack, based on a view he’d once heard from some grad student whose name he’d forgotten after she refused to sleep with him: “It’s a little outdated. Marshall’s argument relies heavily on early 20th-century translations of Sanskrit texts, which contain a number of inaccuracies…”
The students were starting to trickle in. Howard went to take his place at the lectern, but froze in his tracks when he felt Harris’s oily hand on his shoulder, each finger secreting its own personal brand of malevolence.
“Nice try, missy, but I’m not convinced. What exactly are these “inaccuracies” in Marshall’s work? Could you name…let’s say, three of them?”
Howard started to sweat. He glanced over at the students taking their seats, and suddenly felt very aware they were judging him. Some of them were staring really quite hard. He shuffled his notes as he attempted to recall the theory that mean, frigid grad student had told him, shortly before pouring a Heineken over his head for reasons Howard couldn’t remember.
“Well, for example, he makes frequent references to texts describing pairs of women who live together, bathe together, profess their lifelong affection for each other and are buried together, and the early translators of course assumed these were female friends living in a sort of two-person brothel arrangement. It is these pairs of women whom Marshall labels the ‘ur-prostitute-ouroboros’, but the more likely answer is that they were lesbians.”
“Hmm. That’s a bit postmodern, isn’t it? Personally, I’d side with the greats. It seems a bit of a stretch to read lesbianism into texts like The Song of Two Women Lustily Intertwined In A Bed. But you know, colleges these days, they’re looking for diversity, not astute analysis…oh and by the way, you might want to rearrange your shirt.”
Howard looked down. The damn breasts were half out again. He had not bothered with a bra, since his breasts were so perky they were self-supporting, but now he was beginning to wonder if he’d made an error in judgment. Harris leered as Howard tried to stuff himself into position, clearly enjoying both the sight of the breasts and the intensity of the humiliation.
“Actually, you know what, sweetheart?” Harris chuckled. “You go ahead and teach today’s classes. I wouldn’t mind sitting back and enjoying the show.”
As the last student of the last class wandered out of the lecture hall, and Harris slithered out behind them–though not before giving one last sneer–Howard eased himself down onto the floor where he stood, too exhausted to find a chair. Jesus, his feet hurt. His back hurt. Why did everything hurt? All he’d done was stand and speak for a few hours in his nice new pair of heels, which, as it turned out, were some kind of devil-shoes. He wanted to cry (and he knew he’d look good doing it, since Diana cried “quiet tears like crystal, never blemishing the bloom of her youth.”) Pulling off the shiny stilettos, he saw his feet had been rubbed raw and blistered. He sighed and went over the classes in his mind. Maybe the shoes had put him off his game. As the classes changed over, he’d overheard one student say to his friend that he wasn’t paying $60,000 a year to listen to some teacher who got the job through “sleeping with the right dean”. He was still getting used to walking around in this body, and there’d been a few titters when he stumbled. And when each new set of students came into class, there was so much staring. No fun at all. Howard lay back on the floor, his breasts pointing toward the sky like two noble basilicas, and whispered:
“God? Or the devil, or…whoever you are. I don’t know why this has happened, or how, but…I want to go back. Please. Let me go back to my old body. I’ll give my possessions to charity. I’ll tell my ex-wife where her dog is. Anything. I just want things back the way they were.”
Howard woke the next morning, and as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes, he realized he did not have the long thick lashes of an innocent veal calf. He froze for a moment, thinking it too good to be true. Was the nightmare over? He ran his hand down his body–sure enough, it was his own. No creamy elbows. No melancholy hip bones. He scrambled out of bed and flung the armoire door open to see the mirror–and there he was. Just the normal body of a middle-aged man.
Howard breathed a sigh of relief. The nightmare was over. Everything was in its rightful place, and life could continue as it always had. He opened the door and bellowed down to the Guatemalan woman for his coffee, giddy at hearing his own baritone, and strode to the bathroom to wash his blissfully mannish face.
As he lathered the soap in his hands, he took a moment to reflect on his adventure. Yes, it really had been a most fascinating experience, being Diana for a day. For example, he had noticed that men who were nice to other men were sometimes rude to women! And judged women on their appearances! And questioned their competence! Howard smiled at himself in the mirror, congratulating his own wet face at the keen observations he had made. It was such a shame, really, that no-one had ever stopped to think about these things. Men and women, the different way they were treated and all that—if only women spoke up more, if only they explained it properly, perhaps all this could be solved! But maybe it was difficult for them, being emotional and all, and the situation was only obvious to him because he brought a bit of objectivity to the picture. Yes, yes, he understood the difficult position women were in so much more clearly now. In fact, he thought, it might make rather a good idea for a book…
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