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Lesbian Science Fiction People of Color

When they put the crowns on our heads, they said I would live through you. Even though the Stillness had killed my mind’s connection to my body, leaving me silent and paralyzed in my quarantine room, it didn’t have to kill my connection with my twin. The mechanical crowns would sustain it.

My eyes were blind, but I’d see what you saw. My body was numb, but I’d feel through your skin. I’d smell through your nose, taste our favorite foods with your tongue, and through your ears, I would hear something other than the tubes and machines that kept my disease-stricken body alive.

But when you asked that all-important question, the light in the doctors’ eyes paled into sadness. It was then that we learned the terrible truth: the crown lets you feel through another’s senses, but it doesn’t transmit thought.

As long as you can hear your own speech or see your own writing, you can share your thoughts with me. But I can never share mine.

From now on, our connection goes only one way.

~*~

You were never very good at math. You’re a singer, a dancer, an artist. Grace and beauty are your realm, and you twirl through it with joyous abandon. Math class was always like pushing through thorns, and I wish I could lift you up with my knowledge and carry you above it like I used to.

I know the answer to the question our eighth-grade teacher is asking right now. My body may be useless, but my mind is still sharp – almost as sharp as the girl with the huge navy-blue afro, who always raised her hand just a second before I could, and was almost always right.

“Adeola,” the teacher calls, his voice slightly muffled by his paisley mask, and sure enough, she’s raising her hand right now, her huge dark eyes alight with pride.

“Fifty-three,” her voice rings through her mask, as big and attention-grabbing as the giant cloud of sky on her head, and he nods.

The quiz continues, and I occupy myself by trying to answer the questions before Adeola can.

The one time I manage it, my lips can’t move, but in my mind, I smile.

~*~

“Hey, Kaneeta!”

Adeola’s voice is as loud as ever, and you turn, grinning as the other girl comes bounding down the hall. “NO RUNNING!” a teacher’s voice booms from behind a door, and she hastily slows to a fast slink, her smiling eyes silently screaming “busted!”

You giggle, and Adeola does the same as you come as close as social distancing will allow and bend over as if sharing a whispered conspiracy.

Then you straighten, and Adeola’s eyes are shadowed with concern. “So, Kaneeta and Mohala, how are you both doing?”

Mohala. My name. How long has it been since a classmate used it to address me directly, to show that they remembered I was listening? To show that they cared?

“I’m… managing,” you reply, your cheerful light dimming enough to let your best friend see the sadness beneath. “It’s been a tough week since she got sick, but I’m doing my best. And Mohala can’t answer, but I’m sure she appreciates you greeting her, too. Most people forget to do that.”

Most people. Even our dads forget sometimes. Adeola used to infuriate me with her habit of answering math questions before I could, but right now, I want to hug her.

I watch through your eyes as she shifts her foot, dragging a toe across the hall’s smooth white floor. “So, I was thinking,” she says slowly, “I know math isn’t your favorite subject, and you used to get a lot of help from Mohala, right?”

“Yeah.” Your voice is probably supposed to sound like self-deprecating humor, but instead, it wavers on the edge of tears. I want to cry, to hug you, to do all your math homework for you so you can spend more time dancing, but my damn useless body does nothing.

“If you want,” Adeola offers, “I could come over after your dance class, and help you with your homework. We could do it on the porch, where it’s ventilated. And maybe you could help me with some blueprints I’m working on? I’m trying to find a way for those crowns to go two ways, and you’re really good at drawing.”

Two ways. My heart leaps… then falls to the ground and stays there. Adeola’s smart, but people older and smarter than her have been working on this for years. I may be thirteen, and not as smart as them, but I’m not stupid enough to get my hopes up.

You, on the other hand… you’ve always been an optimist. Even now, you’re enthusiastically agreeing, saying you’ll draw a thousand blueprints if it’ll help to bring me back.

My chest should be swelling right now, my eyes burning with tears. But even as my heart aches to hug you, my body feels invisible, and that emptiness makes it so, so hard to hope.

You once told me that even if hope turned out to be wrong, at least while you had it, it felt better than not having it at all. I used to believe that. But then the Stillness got me, and every time hope failed, it was harder to bring it back.

~*~

The walk to dance class is beautiful, all soft warm sun and gentle wind, and I’m grateful for the way you turn to look at every interesting thing we come across. We’re both the type to notice every detail, and whenever I want to look closer at something but you don’t, it claws at my mind, a constant reminder that even the slightest choices and acts of freedom have been stolen from me.

This damn disease… did it really need my body more than I do?

As you walk, you talk to me, cheerfully joking that now I can watch every one of your performances, but I won’t have a very good view.

I wish I could tell you about the thrill I feel when you do a flying back flip, or when your partner throws you high. I never wanted to do the hours of work it would take to make my body do what yours can, but it is an amazing feeling, and I wish you’d dance more often.

If only I could tell you that. Even if Adeola fails to give me that power, even after all the times when she drove me crazy in class, I’ll always be grateful that she was willing to try.

As if hearing my mind change topics, you say, “You know, Adeola’s name feels kind of ironic now. It means ‘The Crown Brings Honor,’ but I’m the one with the crown.”

Just give it time, I think bitterly. We still don’t know how the Stillness spreads, what causes it, or who it will take next. For all we know, it could be her, or…

A lump should be lodging in my throat right now, my heart plunging into my stomach, but there’s nothing. It’s so strange to feel emotions without my body amplifying them, its silence reducing them to thin, weak ghosts of something I should have felt with everything I have.

Maybe that’s a blessing. For all I know, the next victim could be you, and I don’t want to feel that thought.

“So I’ve been thinking,” you continue, distressingly, blessedly oblivious to my thoughts, “should I maybe ask her out? I mean, we’ve been spending a lot more time together lately, and she’s cute, smart and sweet, and now she wants to spend even more time together…”

OH FOR… A thousand memes and social media posts race through my head, and I want to grab your shoulders and shake you.

“…And she always has nice things to say about my art, and she even got me that dress to dance in, the one with the short, sequined skirt…”

Kaneeta, you’re a living meme, you…

“…and she wanted to see me dance in it, and I’m starting to feel like if you were here, you’d be calling me a-”

Useless lesbian! The phrase comes from my mind and your mouth at the same time, and I want to make a foam baseball bat out of all the obvious flirting you’ve managed to miss, and whack you over the head with it.

If only I’d spent less time being mad at Adeola for being the first to raise her hand, and more time telling her you wouldn’t recognize flirting unless she wrote it on your lips with her own.

The door to the dance studio opens, and I savor the fruity scent of the orange sanitizer you rub onto every part of your hands. I’m glad you’re being careful; until we know how the Stillness spreads, I don’t want you taking chances.

I watch you pull your dance uniform from your locker, then slip into a changing room. The uniforms are practically sleek hazmat suits, carefully sterilized between each use, but of course that didn’t stop you from finding markers that won’t wash off and decorating yours. And your classmates’. And the teacher’s.

You always brought so much color into everybody’s lives, and as much as I hate being trapped in my own body, looking at the flowers and jewels that wind around your sleeves makes me glad that it happened to me instead of you.

Your hands reach for the crown, preparing to take it off before you undress. Even between twins, some things remain private, and I don’t begrudge you this.

Then a thud sounds in the room beside the lockers, and a student screams. Your hands freeze, and I suddenly feel sick.

I know that thud. I heard it in my own head, the day the Stillness took me.

Your hand snaps to the door handle, but before you can turn it, a voice rings from the other room. “Hello? I’m at the Flying Feet dance studio. I need paramedics, and the test and quarantine squad; I think a woman here has the Stillness!”

Your eyelids fall, and as you settle back to wait for the squad to come and test you, I know you’re picturing the same thing I am: a fallen body, twitching wildly on the floor, eyes rolling back as if the sickness needs to steal your sight as fast as possible.

It’s always so sudden. One moment you’re fine. Then comes the seizure. Then the tests, and the machines, sustaining a body that can’t sustain itself.

I hope she wakes up before her mouth stops working. If she’s lucky, she can tell the doctors who she wants to share her crown with. If she’s lucky, they’ll agree.

If she’s lucky, she isn’t one of the people who would rather they just turned off the machines.

~*~

Your heart is heavy as you walk to school. I can’t feel your emotions, but I can feel it in your body. Adeola didn’t show up yesterday, and it isn’t like her to break her word – I can’t blame you for being scared.

I was never close to her like you are, and I’m scared, too.

When we see that familiar patch of blue at the end of the hall, barely visible in the milling crowd, our hearts leap as one, then twist. We’re glad she’s alive, but if she’s well enough to be in school, why didn’t she visit, or at least call to let us know that she wasn’t coming? Why didn’t she pick up the phone when you called?

Then the crowd between us parts, and our hearts freeze.

Her afro has been cut to a fraction of itself, and in its place, there’s a crown.

~*~

I never knew Adeola’s mother was your dance teacher. I knew they looked similar, but I was always distracted by the feeling of your body doing dance moves mine could never do.

She used to feel that. And now, thanks to the Stillness, she never will again.

At least you and Adeola passed the doctors’ tests. Despite having both been near her mother, you’re free of the Stillness – for now.

And so, as you meet in the school hall, you’re free to abandon the distance between you that caution had demanded for so long. Free to cry, to hug, to let her bury her face in your shoulder as her agonized screams ring through the halls.

It’s the worst day of school you’ve had all week. I remember this feeling from the day you first returned after my body went Still: the weight in your head, the fog in your mind, as if you have to lift a thousand-pound stone just to hear what the teacher is saying.

Before lunch break, they send you home for the day. You won’t learn anything today, and they know it. Better to let you use the time to come to terms with this new, gaping hole in your world.

You spend hours in your bedroom, shoulder to shoulder with Adeola, leaning your heads against each other while making sure not to damage your crowns. Sometimes you talk about her mother and me; sometimes you talk to us. I’m sure my fellow prisoner wishes she could answer as much as I do.

You even switch crowns for a bit so her mother can feel her favorite dance moves again, and I can finally watch them. You make it look so fluid and effortless; it’s no wonder I never realized how hard you had to work to make that magic happen.

The crowns return to their owners’ heads, and I watch through your eyes as you start to doodle. Then, with a suddenness that startles even me, you thrust the paper toward your friend and order her to tell you how to make the blueprint. “We’re going to fix this,” you declare, and I want to smile and weep.

“It’ll take a while,” Adeola admits, her voice still cracked with tears. “I’m just starting out.”

“Then you have your whole life to figure this out.”

“Yeah.” It’s almost strange to see her mouth smile. We’ve all been wearing masks for so long. The sight of it makes your heart race, and I can just imagine where those widening lips are sending your mind. “You’re right. But first…”

I see it coming long before you do. She steps toward you with purpose in her eyes. Her face slowly moves toward yours, giving you lots of time to back off if you want.

And then, as gentle as a butterfly, she writes her message of love on your lips with her own.

~*~

It’s been nineteen years since Adeola’s mother and I went Still, and I’ve spent those two decades wishing I could tell you how grateful and proud I am.

Over those years, you have sung like an angel, danced like the wind, and done it all in front of gorgeous backdrops you hand painted yourself. You filled the carefully spaced seats of outdoor arenas with enraptured, clapping crowds, and funded your wife’s whole research team while they plundered the mysteries of machines and brains in search of the key to our locked-away voices.

Your lifestyle could have been so much better if you just left us behind. You’ve spent so much on this research, and so have our dads and hers. It would be so easy to give up hope, to live just for yourself, and yet you keep trying. Keep dancing. Keep loving.

Even after almost twenty years, you still talk to me every day, and remind other people to speak to me, too. You tell them to keep their own crowns on, to never abandon the people who have nothing but them.

I’ve worn so many crowns by now. So many new prototypes, and so many old ones, combined with new treatments you hope will help my brain to connect with your metal rings of hope.

You’re bringing a new one today, and as you step through the hospital doors, your wife’s hand clasped in your own, I choose to do what you’ve taught me to, over the years we’ve spent more intimately connected than we ever were before.

I choose to hope.

As long as you keep dancing, singing, painting – as long as Adeola’s research persists – I’ll always choose to hope.

~*~

I love you, sister. I think it, feel it, as loud as I can, willing you to hear. I’m so thankful that you’ve kept trying. But even if you choose to move on, I’ll always love you.

Through the crown, I feel your throat go tight, burning along with your eyes. You try to wipe the tears away, but the hazmat suit blocks you, and all you can do is blink.

And then, your whispered voice responds. “I love you, too, Mohala.”

July 31, 2021 13:06

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