“Hello. I’m guessing you must be Alyssa. I’m Dave.” Oh, so that is the accent, yes, quite out of place in America. In some happy hypnagogic place, warm and cosy, Alyssa smiles to herself, it’s a nice voice.

The hand extending out from the crouching figure drips cold water onto the relaxed body of the younger Dr McDonald and she splutters back to full wakefulness. Silhouetted against the sun she cannot see his face clearly. How long had she been asleep for? Automatically reaching to shake the offending hand she sees the cannula taped to the inside of his elbow as his long delicate fingers touch hers. An ugly marker of his experimental status, this necessity explains the speed with which the blood sample had been taken earlier. He seems to find nothing unusual in having the device fitted, or that it symbolises his status as ‘the product’ and the remarkable nature of his biology. This is all he knows. Helena may have adapted to the situation, all of it as being part of the reality of his bizarre life, but Alyssa finds his lack of shame at being the object of such scrutiny disturbing.

Not being able to see his face clearly, and not wanting to settle on the unsightly thing in his arm, she tries to find something else to focus on  – and quickly decides that it is probably not such a good idea given their relative positions. Thankfully Helena has also been disturbed by the arrival of the wet figure, and her fussing as she rushes to dry him provides a welcome distraction. The spell of the summer afternoon broken they decide it is time to return to the house. Struan’s daughter is not overly surprised to find that the dark sarong, wrapped tightly against his narrow hips and doing little to provide any modesty, is Dave’s only item of clothing. Letting him draw away from them, his bare feet almost silent over the shingle, Alyssa can’t resist asking about his spare frame.

“I think he’ll always look underweight, it just seems to be the way he is. It’s taken us a while but we’ve got him eating enough to pass for normal. He looks so much better for it compared to when he first awoke – maybe an extra thirty-five pounds on him since then, and we’ve nearly got him up to ten per cent body fat along with the muscle. All the effort was going into developing the brain; the body was something of an afterthought … still, I think he’s doing a pretty good job with it.”

They follow him up the path, each lost in their own thoughts as they watch the liquid movement of the slight physique ahead of them. Taking her cue from the older woman, Alyssa refrains from commenting on the fading marks of wounds healing down the line of his spine, she can always go back to his notes to see what has been done to him. She is fascinated by what he is, certainly, but to pretend to be his lover? Though she is committed to the Shabti Programme, and has barely flinched at doing some things she would never mention to her father, this seems like it might be beyond her. 

It’s not that the blond woman is overly attached to the casual girlfriends back home but the thought of any man, of what men did, and the stupidity of women dependent on their violence for their sense of esteem has informed her view of life for many years. She was not so like her father that she forgot about sex, not at all, she was happy to recognise the needs of the flesh but saw to them on her own terms. Knowing what her mother had turned into, that long sad decline as Margaret McDonald searched for validation from affairs that were little more than anonymous rutting, would have been difficult enough for an adult to accept. To come home early one day and see the whole sorry mess played out in living colour, her mother on all fours to service two male students had affected the adolescent girl more than she had wanted to admit.

Alyssa had decided years before to never, ever, be dependent on a man for anything and to certainly never play those slobbering, sucking, violent games of penetration and ejaculation. Uncle Richard had been a help, always a comfort. He’d been the one she’d turned to when she didn’t know how to cope with the stress of boys and expectations of the normal. He’d suggested a different path and she had never regretted her rejection of the cisgender male.

So Alyssa watches the thin man in the long skirt climb the path up to her old house. She hopes the intervening years and experience, and this new creature’s apparently submissive nature, will make the pretence easier to maintain.

This Dave is not at all what she had expected to find.

< McDonald House || Lytton Estate >

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