IF trans THEN mogrify
by Hailey Piper
Rosalyn almost has the ladies’ room to herself when an intrusive hand jams the stall’s doorway, nails painted a dull red. The diner’s restroom has three stalls, the other two being empty, and Rosalyn hasn’t heard this stranger try either neighboring door.
“Privacy, please,” she says.
But the insistent hand shoves the stall open anyway. A scowling, middle-aged woman in blue jeans and a pale yellow coat fills the doorway, someone Rosalyn doesn’t know, and yet the look on this stranger’s face and the words out of her mouth have reared their ugliness more than once before.
“Excuse me, but I think you meant to go across the hall,” the woman says. She points at the ladies’ room door. “You know, the other restroom?”
Rosalyn stands exposed. She just wants to go real quick before her food arrives at her booth, where her date is waiting. Now, there’s a restroom inspector. Her first instinct would be to hide in another stall, but this intruder’s trouble isn’t which stall Rosalyn has chosen.
Rosalyn knows the type. She tries to put on as brave a face as any teenager can. “And whose business is it?” she asks.
“I’m Kerrie, if that’s what you’re asking,” the woman says. “I’m making it my business. You don’t belong here. You’ve got a—” Kerrie’s gaze flicks toward Rosalyn’s waist.
Rosalyn doesn’t need to glance at her floral pattern skirt to get the meaning. Before the interruption, she was about to sit down as she shut the door, so obviously some tucked things have come un-tucked beneath the fabric. What does Kerrie want to hear? Rosalyn’s too mortified to move her lips, frozen in disbelief that this is happening to her yet again.
Kerrie begins what she must believe to be an insightful anatomy lesson. “It’s a man’s equipment,” she says. “Why bring it here?”
As if Rosalyn could’ve left it in her purse at the diner booth with her date. She’s too tongue-tied to say that, either. After the last two times this happened in two different restrooms, she came up with sharp quips in case there would come an Encounter Number Three. Now the third encounter is here, but she finds her tongue dull and soft.
She manages only a meek reply: “I have the lady’s model.”
Kerrie grinds her heel into the tile floor and puffs up her shoulders. “That’s not how words work,” she snaps. “You don’t belong in here, but you expect me and everyone else to let you upend the universe and turn the world upside-down. When pigs fly. When hell freezes over. Do these phrases ring any bells?”
Rosalyn shudders deeper into the stall. At her first encounter, she did as she was told and headed for the men’s room, tears spilling down her cheeks. At the second encounter, she was on her way home anyway and held on until she reached her safe place. But she has a date tonight, and this is Encounter Number Three. If she retreats a third time, what does that make her? Surely the Great Council of the Trans Agenda that Kerrie probably believes in will revoke Rosalyn’s status.
“Girls have one thing and boys the other,” Kerrie goes on, and she points to the door again. “If you have the man’s thing, then you belong across the hall.”
Kerrie’s wording slides Rosalyn’s memory away from past encounters and back to that one elective from junior year, when she tried to learn Basic Computing. “That’s an IF, THEN clause,” she says in her customer service tone, almost disconnected from this moment. “Would you like me to program?”
Kerrie raises an eyebrow. “An if what?”
Rosalyn’s fingers prod the air as if typing across an invisible keyboard. Encounter Number Three—it feels like that should matter, the start of something odd yet believable, like finding pumpkin spice tea in February, or getting a text from a faraway friend the moment you thought about how much you missed them, or learning that your celebrity crush has a compatible zodiac sign. There is magic in the number three. A bell chimes, and the world’s program runs new code.
IF rosalyn THEN
That’s a fair conclusion, right? Rosalyn is a lady and belongs in the ladies’ room. Kerrie says that Rosalyn’s parts belong in the other restroom. Those realities can’t co-exist. “IF, THEN,” Rosalyn says. “If what’s between my legs doesn’t suit the room and yet I belong here, then that must upend the universe? Sounds like we have a big problem.”
“Damn right, we have a problem,” Kerrie says. “I’ve been patient and polite with you, but I’ll call the manager, just you watch.” Her eyes glisten with crocodile tears, and a smirk hides beneath her wavering tone. Kerrie has had her way plenty of times in the past by playing the victim.
“If I belong here, any silly thing would be possible, right?” Rosalyn whispers to herself, still typing on a keyboard that isn’t there—or is it?
Kerrie hears the whisper over the not-typing. “Nothing would make sense anymore if you belonged here,” she says, and the look in her eyes suggests that she’s often felt that nothing makes sense. With each passing year, a transmogrifying world dribbles through her fingers. New shapes are non-shapes. And it’s about to get worse.
IF rosalyn THEN
The ladies’ room walls become transparent beneath a mighty wind, but there is no diner on the other side of their new glass. A terrible oinking fills the air as if the restroom has fallen through a pigpen tornado. Tusked boars spread hairy brown wings, and prehistoric hell pigs scream thunder across distant skies. Slender pink piglets squeal with delight while the largest hogs peer through the walls, wearing Kerrie’s now confused expression.
“Am I drugged?” she asks. Only she would know, but she glares at Rosalyn anyway and presses into the stall, partly blocking the ceiling lights. “You drugged me somehow. Admit it.”
Rosalyn shrinks beneath that shadow, same as she did in the last two encounters. It doesn’t matter that she’s tall; people like Kerrie always keep a shrink ray in their voices. Rosalyn would become a bug soon, and wouldn’t that be easier? Scuttle away, cancel the date, head home? She would save herself this discomfort and any further embarrassment, at least until Encounter Number Four. Still, escape has to be less effort than upending the universe.
From the outside, she supposes that’s true. But inside, she would know herself as the Girl Who Kept Running Away. Encounter Number Three will grow into an eventual Encounter Number Ten, and then Thirty, on and on unless someone makes it stop.
Rosalyn could be that someone. She slams an unseen Enter key.
IF rosalyn THEN
hell freezes over
The tile floor thins until it’s as transparent as the walls. Ancient depths open below the ladies’ room, where ten thousand demons cry out in pain at the first nips of Jack Frost’s icy teeth.
Kerrie crumples to the floor, her hands splayed as if she’s about to fall through the glassy tiles. “You’re doing this,” she cries. “Make it stop!”
Rosalyn can’t be sure it will ever stop. Even if she somehow saves her dignity today, the universe offers no guarantee that there won’t be an Encounter Number Four, Ten, Thirty, which won’t hold the magic of the number three. She’s exhausted over just this many encounters. Why not let the universe upend? That Basic Computing junior elective might be good for something if it creates a reality where such encounters never happen. There was a faith in that little choice, a magic that said electives might be worthwhile someday.
“You chose this mess tonight,” Rosalyn says. “You declared the IF, THEN. How weird do you want it?”
“Not weird at all,” Kerrie says. She’s trying to stand, but vertigo has made her dizzy, and demonic sneezes from below have disoriented her senses. “I just want things to go back to the way they were.” She isn’t just talking about the ladies’ room this evening. She means a time further back, before she knew about women like Rosalyn, when ignorance was her thorny bliss.
Rosalyn feels dizzy too, but she manages to stand in the stall doorway. “You know what I wanted?” she asks. “To be left alone. Now we have to live with a universe that can’t make sense because that absolute you wanted doesn’t exist. The universe can’t function in true absolutes. There’s usually a quirk in the code and rarely a debugger around when you need one. So pigs fly. Hell freezes over. And deep down through it all, I just hope that there are toilets in this new universe you’ve caused, because I don’t know about you, but I still have to go.”
The cacophony of soaring pigs and sniffling demons shrinks to a whisper. Reality readies for another shift, this time outside of Rosalyn’s control. She’s too exhausted and uncomfortable to guide it. Fine then, let it twist away from a universe where Encounter Number Infinity is possible. Erase toilets, re-code restrooms. She shoves the unseen keyboard out of the stall.
The ceiling thins, about to reveal some new impossibility. Rosalyn glances away. Whatever is about to happen isn’t her problem anymore.
IF rosalyn THEN
Kerrie flails her arms and happens to strike a key on the unseen keyboard. “Fine, it’s normal!” she cries. “I don’t care anymore. You’re normal, it’s normal, everything’s normal, just make it stop, okay? OKAY?”
The ceiling thickens into fluorescent lights. Sturdy walls replace pig-filled windows, and the floor solidifies, hiding the abyss where returning warmth cures demons of an unseasonal winter. The ladies’ room looks like itself again.
Rosalyn quakes inside, but she keeps her feet. “Well, thanks,” she says, her tone softening. “It’s a little weird to come up to a girl in the restroom and say that, but I appreciate your support.”
Kerrie gapes at the open stall. Her crocodile tears give way to the real thing, at once relieved to have her universe back and astonished that it could return as easily as it twisted. She doesn’t look like she understands the power of the number three, or elective high school courses, or why her absolutes won’t work. Maybe someday, she will.
Elsewhere, the universe thins again. In another restroom, another girl has been thrust into Encounter Number X on her personal tally. She taps into memories of Basic Computing, or Intro to Literature, or Art History, whichever half-forgotten elective class will help her guide basic social decency into the ladies’ room before it becomes an emergency. Rosalyn hopes that with enough upending, the universe will call it quits on encounters altogether.
“Now, if you don’t mind—” Rosalyn presses the stall door shut. “Privacy, please.”
About the Author
Hailey Piper is the author of Unfortunate Elements of My Anatomy, The Worm and His Kings, Queen of Teeth, and other works of horror and dark fiction. Her over sixty short stories appear in Baffling Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, The Arcanist, Dark Matter Magazine, and many other publications. A trans woman hailing from the haunted woods of New York, she now lives with her wife in Maryland. Find her at www.haileypiper.com or on Twitter via HaileyPiperSays.
About the Narrator
Julia Hawkes-Reed is a Unix hacker by day. By night, too, if it’s been one of those sorts of weeks. Her origin story involves finding the big yellow Gollancz hardbacks in Winchcombe public library, the ‘Making a transistor radio’ Ladybird book and the John Peel programme. The 2006 Viable Paradise writer’s workshop was something of a life-changing experience, and she has been quietly emitting stories of varying length since then. One of those stories can be found in the anthology ‘Airship shape and Bristol fashion II’. She is fascinated by cold-war architecture, islands and stationary engines. Julia does not own enough synths or tractors.
About the Artist
Alexis is a multiclass disaster-human living with her husband in Cincinnati. When she isn’t prepping art for Cast of Wonders, designing pins for pin-y.com, or yelling about TV into a mic for Bald Move, she dabbles in a revolving menu of hobbies and art projects. To list them all would be sheer madness. Like any good bisexual, she has a lot of jackets. You can find her on Twitter @alexisonpaper.