Kirby Wright is struggling to complete his childhood memoir set in Hawaii, mostly because he’s been obsessing his impending lawsuit against his big brother. A secondary distraction is trying to hunt down the money to help his kid sister get married. Kirby wants you to review his futuristic thriller and he will gladly to send you an electronic or hard copy. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pretend I’m On the Moon
It’s dusk in San Diego, the in-between time, the border between light and dark when the past haunts the soul with memory and loss. Sunset couples embrace more for comfort than for love. The lonely hide. The lights of the city flare to life, exorcising day from night, past from present. Some will remember these fragile moments when memories flash the final string of images.
In a studio overlooking Lindbergh Field, unfinished statues face the window. Some require a simple skin of fiberglass. Others are crude, sexless shapes requiring the Creator to bring form and meaning. There’s a scraping sound. Tiloi Lota, a Tongan wearing a blue sarong and an orchid-print shirt, shapes a white foam block using a steel file. The studio smells like a surfboard shop. The aroma takes Tiloi back to Nukuʻalofa, where he shaped boards for the big wave surfers. He glances at his model.
June Blavatski, a rouged blonde in her sixties, is camped under a galaxy of spotlights. She sits on a wicker throne framed by white columns reminiscent of ancient Greece. She wears a tiara, diamond earrings, and a sapphire gown. Her face is orange and triangular, the product of fad diets, tanning booths, and scalpels. The lights are getting hot—mascara melts off her eyebrows, creating dark circles above the eyes. June crosses her legs. “That looks larger than life, Tiloi.”
“That’s life-size, Mrs. Blavatski.”
“Please, Tiloi, call me June.” She squints as features emerge. “That visage is a bit on the big side. I’m not that big, am I?”
He files in cheekbones. “I could shrink it, but then we’ve got to reduce everything to keep you in perspective.”
“It seems rather large.”
“You don’t want me turning you into a stranger, do you, June?”
“No, I suppose not.” She shades her eyes with a hand.
The filing sound makes Tiloi feel productive. He’s glad he moved on from surfboards to busts; he’s giving people an exquisite rendering of themselves that can’t be achieved with either paintings or pictures. White powder snows over his forearms, falling onto the maple floor. He imagines himself a dark visitor from another planet with white hands and arms, a creature both hated and loved for showing two colors.
June drags a finger over a lid, smudging mascara to the laugh lines on the outer edge of her eye. “May I tell you a secret, Tiloi?” she asks.
“Sometimes I feel like a stranger to myself. Have you ever felt that way?”
“I suppose you’re curious why I hired you at all.”
“Never question a client’s intentions, that’s my golden rule.”
June studies the studio. There’s a tapa cloth print covering the east wall. She pretends it’s the hide of an extinct beast once indigenous to the South Pacific. Artifacts are mounted above the hide: a wooden figurine of a naked boy, a war club, a necklace of human hair, and a headdress made from shark’s teeth. She looks out the picture window on the west wall, fascinated by the planes descending on the city and the blue-lighted runway. She thinks of spirits landing in new bodies to resume quests for enlightenment. She’s overcome by an overwhelming urge to leave her mark on the world, some legacy bigger than her boutique hotels and clutch of charities. “I’ll place your piece in The Camelot Inn,” June blurts.
“In La Jolla?”
“Yes. I was a knight who died in battle.”
“Who said you died?”
“Tea leaf readers, a tarot master, and a clairvoyant. Even my spiritual counselor. I visited an Irish castle and something felt familiar when I walked the floors and held the sword and drank the mead.”
“Yes. But make them young.”
“Pretend I’m on the moon.”
Tiloi zigzags the upper torso into shape. He’s certain, once he gets through this initial shaping and begins refining, her attitude will improve.
“Show the face,” June says.
Tiloi steps aside. The bridge of the statue’s nose and cheekbones are crude yet discernible. The bump that will be breasts juts out like a tumor.
June adjusts her tiara. “Something’s off kilter, I fear.”
Tiloi strolls over to the wall and pulls off the war club. “This will help you remember your warrior past,” he says, handing it over.
She taps the club against the throne’s arm, then raises it above her head and swings it around. The swinging makes her feel good.
Tiloi grabs her jaw. “Power in this chin.”
“You really think so?” she asks, thrusting it up.
“Long neck, sexy as a swan.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He places a hand on her shoulder. “Raise.”
June lifts. The strap from her gown slips, revealing the tan line on her shoulder. The gold cups of her brassiere glow.
“That’s it, June. A bit more. Inhale and hold.”
She inhales, cups rising.
Tiloi stands back, considering his model. “Lovely,” he says. Her breasts are small yet firm, like the early Tongan mangoes that fall before maturing. She reminds him of a horny divorcee arriving on island shore in a cruise ship. “Exhale, June.”
She exhales. “You’ve always been a sculptor?”
“Excuse my curiosity, but were you ever a dancer?”
“What makes you ask?”
June blushes. “You’ve certainly got the legs for it.”
“I was a fighter on 50th State Wrestling, in Honolulu. My stage name was The Tongan Terror.”
“Good guy or bad guy?”
“Bad guy. Way bad. I was the sworn enemy of The Missing Link and The Masked Executioner. Kids and grannies showered me with soda and pelted me with popcorn. It was like being tarred and feathered every night. One punk dropped his drawers and soaked my Tongan War Boots.”
June pulls up her strap and hooks it back on her shoulder. “Life’s one big lie,” she sighs.
“Oh, I shouldn’t say. It wouldn’t be right.”
“C’mon. I promise not to email The Huffington Post.”
“All right,” June laughs. “I suppose it’s no big deal.”
“I’m really a man.”
Tiloi rewinds her voice and listens again. He hears countertenor, a pitch that brings him back to a she-male on Hotel Street in Honolulu. He circles his work as if it is a fraud, a misrepresentation. “A man,” he says.
“I was born male,” she says, “and that’s what it says on my birth certificate. But something important was missing.”
June rests the club on her lap. “Balls,” she says. “A fat little pecker but no jewels. So, Mommy Dearest decides she wants a girl, but neglects to tell me I’m a sex change. So there I am, high and dry in junior high, feeling like a misfit. I prayed to the Virgin Mary for my first period until my knees bled.”
Tiloi shapes the cheeks. “They chopped it off?”
“A specialist from Stockholm inverted it.”
Tiloi drops his file. A familiar wave moves through him—it’s the old attack of inertia that arrests his vision and imprisons his Muse. His legs cramp. The last time this hit, he was shaping a bust for Sly Stallone. He picks up his file, spasms moving from his tailbone up along his spine.
“You know,” June says, “no balls isn’t such a rarity. Why, there are famous sex-change-at-birth people walking among us. It’s only a little less common than, say, being born a pinhead. And you know how many pinheads are out on the town.”
Tiloi does deep knee bends. The cramping and spasms subside. “Used to wrestle a pinhead,” he tells her. “Emperor Hongo, the Japanese Pinhead. He was really Korean but nobody knew. He’d ram his head into my kidneys and I’d pee blood for a week.”
“My only regret is I couldn’t have children.”
“Your husbands all knew?”
“The first was my high school sweetheart and he split the second I told him. The second knew but turned gay. The third, a Barcelona matador, died in the bullring before I confessed. I was on a world cruise with number four when I dropped my hormones overboard, and by the time we got back to port I’d developed the faintest of beards. I waxed obsessively but he decided he couldn’t live with me anymore because I reminded him of Bruce Jenner.”
“You don’t look like Bruce Jenner.”
“Well thank you, Tiloi.”
He works the chin. “Who are these other sex changes?”
“Barry Manilow’s a good example. And Laura Bush.”
Tiloi blinks dust out of his eye. “Come on. Laura Bush?”
“She has daughters.”
“Twins,” June says, “whisked out of Prague as babies. Don’t you think it’s funny how they look nothing alike?”
Tiloi files feverishly, applying the finishing touches to the face. He knows he’s working too fast. He knows fast work kills art. But he wants this bust skinned with fiberglass before the sky above Point Loma turns apricot with sunrise. Part of him is already paddling out through the oily kelp beds for that first set. He stands aside, making sure not to cast a shadow on the bust. “How’s that, June?”
“Flattering. I must say, I look a little like Aphrodite.”
“The Goddess of Love. She seduced Hermes?”
“Sure. They made Hermaphrodite.”
June crosses her legs. “My, Tiloi, I’m impressed.” The slit in her gown makes her legs appear longer, and she knows that takes off ten years. She likes showing them off. She imagines her sculptor as number five and exploring the outer reaches of the South Pacific with him at her side. Maybe they will discover rare artifacts on remote atolls, priceless stone relics and dolphin-tooth necklaces she can store in the lobbies of her hotels before willing them to a favorite museum. But what if Tiloi rejects her? He knows that, beyond the surgery and the make-up and the gown, she’s really a man.
Tiloi zigzags the torso. He gives the nipples an upward curve, with firm breasts defying gravity. He thinks about his man-root. He doesn’t feel his balls but knows they’re safe behind the sarong. He turns and sees guilt in June’s eyes, as if she suddenly realized any rendering of herself as a woman is a lie. He sees the guilt shift to sadness. She reminds him of a sad clown sitting there, packed with rouge and runaway mascara that give her sockets a hollow look. “You okay, June?”
Tiloi returns to his work. He finishes the neck and glances out the far window. A jet descends on the airport. The cramps and spasms return. But he doesn’t quit, his file shaping the first shoulder. He wishes June Blavatski was a stranger, someone fresh and unfamiliar, like one of the many tourists landing now at Lindbergh Field.