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The Shape of Things

My wife is showing people around the house. Prospective buyers. I can hear them chatting and walking across my floor, touching my things. She’s showing them the front room that I fixed up myself a few summers back. They might be admiring the half-wall I put in to separate the living area from the dining, because my wife doesn’t like to watch TV during meals. Or the shag carpeting I drove all the way across town to find while I had a raging head cold.

She’s charming the buyers in the kitchen now, demonstrating the cupboards and telling them some story about how we had an ever so romantic night cooking together on Thursdays. You know, all that marketing bullshit. I redecorated the entire thing, since it was originally decked out in classy 1970s yellow and orange cork board. The benches are made from solid marble, the blinds have UV-resistant coating and the stove can connect to the internet.

“My husband put all this together himself,” I hear my wife say, “these cupboards are originally from an old supply ship.”

The buyers ooh and aah about that as she leads them into the master bedroom. And then they go silent.

Buyer #1’s mouth drops, “Is that a…”

“I mean, it definitely is. Isn’t it?” Buyer #2 says.

“Oh, don’t say anything about it. If you comment it will just encourage him,” says my lovely wife. “He only wants attention.”

“It’s a giant… uh… a giant phallus.”

“Yes,” says the wife, “George is unhappy about the move. You know how men are, always acting out when they don’t get their way. It’s silly really.”

The buyers laugh, but they aren’t buying it. The story or the house. It might not be part of the deal, but finding a big, pulsing cock wriggling around on the bed leaves an impression.

“I think he’s being very spiteful,” my wife states as she ushers them out.


That night, I make it up to her by becoming Clevon Little, the black sheriff from Blazing Saddles. One of her favourites.

Then we lie there together in the dark.

“You have to stop acting like this, George. You’re not a child.”

“I don’t want to leave, Ellie.”

“We need a new house. This place was already too small for us, and now with the baby coming…” She sits up and looks down at me. “We can’t stay here forever.”

“I don’t see why not. We’ve put so much into the place. Babies don’t take up that much space.”

“Right. And what happens when it magically turns from a baby into a small child? And then a teenager? I suppose you’re going to build a new room overhanging the street, or our child can sleep in the bathroom.”

I stare at her.

“Fine, George. Sulking now. Why does it always end like this? You get to feel like you won because you stuck your lip out like a fucking child.”

“I’m going to sleep,” I say, rolling over.


We both lie there under the cover for a few minutes, not sleeping. Eventually I get up in a huff and head downstairs to sleep on the couch. Eddie Izzard gives her the finger before I go.


I get up for work the next day and leave with my human face on. Ellie doesn’t say goodbye, but she does give me my toast fingers.

At the bus stop, someone has written FUCK MUTANTS in big red letters. It’s probably not a suggestion. On the bus, there’s a young kid being bullied by a bunch of red-haired kids. He’s trying to hide it, but every now and then a forked tongue slips out of his mouth.

When I arrive at work, there are 43 emails waiting for me at my desk. 12 of them are complaints from clients.  One of them is from my boss, asking me to come and see him.

“Good morning, George.”

I jump. Like a trained hawk, he’s standing at the opening of my cubicle.

“Morning Steven. How are things?” I ask.

“You’d better come in to my office when you get the chance,” he states, then walks off. Always the charmer.

Once I’ve gotten settled, had a coffee and a trip to the bathroom, and put on my Employee of the Month face – not literally – and head to Boss Central Command. He makes a face which probably should have been a smile, but came off as a grimace, then motions for me to sit

“George, there have been some complaints about your work.”

“Yes, well-”

“Client reports say you’ve been rude, unhelpful and sometimes actually offensive to them during meetings and phone conferences. We nearly lost the Ferguson’s Goods account after you told Mrs Ferguson she should stop sampling the stock. Luckily Davis stepped in and smoothed things over.”


“Are you having problems here at work I should know about, George?”

“No sir.”

“What about your home life?”

“Maybe. Yeah, I guess so.” I shuffle my feet and stare at the dozen or so executive stress toys on Steven’s desk.

“Did you want to see the counsellor here? The company covers you-”

“No, my wife is just knocked up. That’s all.”

“Ah! Well congratulations!”

“It’s not really a celebration. I mean it is, but I don’t want it.” He looks momentarily shocked, but it’s too late now, I’ve started talking and I can’t stop. “It’s this… thing that’s coming. And it could be anything. I don’t mean boy or girl, that doesn’t matter. But what if it comes out and it’s a mutant. A little mutant

“But you’re a mutant, George.”

“Exactly. I know. I know what it’s like. What happens to mutants growing up. It’s bad enough for normal kids, just try to imagine passing through a school full of children when you have a tail, or sparkles shoot out your nose when you sneeze, or what the fuck ever. When I was a kid I was pushed around every day. Other children used to throw balls of paper at me if I was lucky – rocks if I wasn’t. One older kid – Billy, or Barry, or something – waited outside my house one morning and chased me down the street with a piece of wood.”

I stop for a second and see Steven looking at me as if I just peed my pants. A tiny bit of disgust mixed with a huge helping of pity. In a way, it’s worse than all the childhood horrors I’m suddenly remembering. I get up quickly and head back to my desk.


The next day I go to work with my real face. As I’m walking out, Ellie stops me.

“Is this some kind of protest?” she asks, arms folded.

“I’m making a point,” I say, and leave before she can question further.

On the bus, people stare. Not as much as I expected them to, but they still do it. My naturally shiny, flat and featureless body is pretty conspicuous.

When I arrive at work there are initial double-takes and whispers and the ding sound of people sending computer messages, but once that dies down there is nothing. Nobody comments on it at all. Even when Steven comes in he just gives me a nod and slides past to his office.

While I’m in the staff room at lunch, eating a cheese and onion sandwich, a girl comes in and starts looking at me. I recognise her as one of the artists from the design department. Alice, or something.

“Is that your face?” She asks, eyes wide.


I want her to say it’s hideous, that it makes her uncomfortable. But she doesn’t, instead she scrunches up her mouth.

“It’s interesting to see it for the first time. Makes me feel better about you.”

I don’t even know what that that means. But she’s gone anyway.


I go home. Sidney Poitier makes love to my wife, but my heart isn’t really in it. I’m feeling confused. Today didn’t go the way I expected.

Ellie keeps wanting me to touch her stomach, but I can’t. I don’t want to know about that thing inside. So we just lie there as the night passes. Then the phone rings and Ellie gets up to answer it. Some muffled conversation and she comes and hands me the phone.

“It’s your dad, George. He’s passed away.”


I grew up in a mining village. You know the type: one general store, one doctor, one bar. A small collection of houses clinging to the side of a mountain, with a coal mine struggling to break even on the other side. Even though most people spend their whole lives here, a lot of the houses are pretty new. Turns out there are a lot of rock slides.

You can see most of the village from the cemetery where my father is currently being laid to rest. As they drop him into the ground I try to think about him, but it’s not easy.

He spent most of his time working, and when he was at home he was always very distant with me. I saw him talk to his garden more than us kids. I doubt I could tell you 10 things about the man.

My sister squeezes my hand, and I feel my mum do the same on the opposite side.

Back at the family home, everything goes back to normal. It’s like nothing has changed, except now my dad is gone forever. I notice myself barely noticing his absence. We drink tea and fill the silence with small talk about work and social lives and the weather. Because god knows nobody ever really cares about the weather.

I look at my sister Jane and her webbed fingers. She had it so easy. So lucky to have something so small and easy to hide.

“It’s nice to get back,” says Jane, “I remember how nice it was to have family and friends around.”

“I don’t,” I say.

“Yes, well. You were never very popular, poor little thing.” My mother tuts and drinks her tea.

“It isn’t my fault I look like this, mum.”

“They didn’t hate you because of your looks, George. They hated you because your daddy was rich. They liked that boy with the horn just fine, didn’t they?”

“Why didn’t they hate her then? She’s a freak too!” I gesture to Jane.

“Because I’m not an asshole,” Jane says.

“Excuse me?”

“You’re a giant, attention-seeking bastard who uses being a mutant as an excuse to fuck with people and be a colossal shithead. And then you act surprised and hurt when they don’t like you, so you can get sympathy. Poor Georgie, people always being mean to him. Give me a break.”

Everyone is quiet for a minute or so.

“Please don’t fight. Not today,” says mum, not looking at us.

So we don’t.


When I get back home, I go for a long walk. Not going anywhere, just walking and walking through the city streets. I see mutants of all shapes and sizes going about their lives. I see non-mutants too, but maybe they are mutants and I just don’t know.

I sit on a bench by the ocean for a long time.

Eventually I head home and find Ellie washing dishes in the kitchen. I kiss her with my real face. She looks surprised.

“I think I’m going to be a bad father,” I say.


“Because I’m a bad brother, a bad friend and a bad husband.”

“Lucky for you, I’m an extremely forgiving wife.”

“It’s scary, you know. I could fuck this up. I probably will fuck this up. And this kid is going to grow up thinking his dad is a jerk. It’ll probably ruin his life.”

“It means you’re normal, you stupid man,” says Ellie. “I hope you can figure that out at least and talk to me next time, instead of becoming a big dick about it.” She touches my face.


“You’ll be a great father. Or a terrible one. It’s your choice.”


She stares into my eyes and then gets a mischievous grin.

“And before we go to bed, you’re going to be Denzel for a while.”

“Yes dear.”


RJ Astruc’s short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Abyss & Apex, Aurealis, and many other magazines. Her latest novel is Harmonica + Gig. Andy Astruc writes about video games for anyone who’ll pay him, and is a staff writer for Gamefreaks and Destructoid. His short fiction is forthcoming in Daily Science Fiction and has appeared previously in Necrotic Tissue.


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