Email 8: Laura to Robert
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From: Laura Vance <[email protected]>
Date: Tue, Mar 5, 20-- at 10:02 PM
Subject: Anne
To: Robert Vance <[email protected]>

Weird as it seems, Anne really is okay. She's not quite the same person I knew, but then, I'm not the same anymore, and neither are you...

The trip up here was... a trip. We've seen almost a dozen human subspecies just around Athens, what with students and other people having been out of town on the day of the changes, but I think I must have seen fifty or more at various gas stations, fast food places and rest areas along the way. I took some pictures with my phone; I'll show you when I get home.

I got confused looks a few times from fast food servers and so forth trying to figure out whether to address me as "sir" or "ma'am", and guessing wrong almost half the time. I hadn't realized until now how much I'd changed in the last few weeks. Are people who don't know you calling you "ma'am" sometimes? Don't answer that by email if you don't want, we'll talk when I get home. I'd changed so much that Anne didn't recognize me at first.

I got to the hospital a little before the evening shift change, parked and went to the reception desk. I told the receptionist (she was one of the five-eyed marsupials Anne told me about, so not part of the hospital commune, I guess) I was looking for Anne Hartz, or Anne Greenview, or Tall Anne, a nurse on the pulmonary floor. She said she would page her, and she did: as "Tall Anne". A few minutes later she got Anne on the phone, and handed the phone to me, and Anne told me she would come down to the lobby as soon as she finished report, in another fifteen minutes or so.

I sat down and waited, and watched for her. Various people came and went, a lot of normal-looking people and a lot of quintocular marsupials (I assume they were marsupial because Anne told me they were, but they were all fully dressed, so I couldn't see their pouches), and a few of the other new subspecies: an eyeless couple from Nashville, making clicking sounds with their tongues as they walked to sense things by echolocation, and a quadruped, I'm not sure where he was from, and some others. A woman came in and looked around, whom I didn't take any particular notice of at first; then she went to the reception desk and talked to the receptionist, who stood up and looked around, then pointed at me and said something to her. I looked closer then, and finally recognized Anne. I think she got within four paces of me before she recognized me.

Anne hadn't told me that her skin was darkening and her hair was lightening. And her eyes are hazel now. Once I saw her up close I realized that almost half of the normal-looking people I'd seen walking through the lobby had borne a strong resemblance to each other -- a family resemblance: light brown skin and dark brown hair, and, I found out later once I started looking more carefully, hazel eyes.

"Laura," Anne said, and hugged me as I stood up. "I'm so glad to see you! But you should have sent me a picture. I didn't realize you'd changed, I mean visibly outside your clothes..."

"I kind of didn't realize how much," I said. "It's been gradual. Did you not notice that you've changed too?"

She looked startled. "Now that you mention it, I guess I have... I did notice, I just didn't think it was important. I mean, not compared to the huge changes the marsupials up on the north side of town went through, or the poor blind folks in Nashville, or lots of others."

"You're probably right," I said, deciding not to make a big deal about it; but it worried me. The changes we went through on our wedding day might be just the beginning; who knows what else is going to happen to us, or even if we'll notice it happening?

We talked there in the lobby for a few minutes, and then Anne wanted to show me around. I was keen to see the way the place had changed after becoming a commune. She took me to the pulmonary floor where she usually works, and introduced me to various co-workers -- one of them, Tracy Greenview, née Barnett, went to Emory with me and Anne. I say it's a pulmonary floor, that's her specialty, but right now it only has a couple of pulmonary cases, marsupials who were in near-drowning accidents when the change happened while they were swimming or boating. The rest of the floor, like most of the hospital, was full of car accident victims; mostly bat-people from Nashville, with a few locals, more marsupials than... whatever it is Anne and the others like her are.

From there we went to the office where she sleeps at night. The accountant who uses it in the daytime had gone home; Anne got me to help her push the desk up against the wall, then we laid out a mattress, took a bunch of pillows and linens from a nearby supply closet, and made the bed.

"You really sleep here with four other women?" I asked her.

"Well, not always," she said. "Sometimes I sleep with one of the guys, and fairly often one or more of the women who rooms here sleeps somewhere else with a guy, and once a couple of guys joined us here. That was fun." She sounded totally unselfconscious as she said that. Robert, I would bet every penny I have that Anne was never unfaithful to Dave before this weirdness started, and I'm just as sure that she was a virgin when she married him -- I was her maid of honor, we told each other everything in those days -- but now...! The way this thing changed her is scary, but it's not something I can rescue her from, as though she'd joined a cult and separating from her from it would start undoing the brainwashing. It's biological. Friday night you and I talked about the way we've been feeling different, still loving each other but not wanting sex anymore, and I think the same kind of thing is happening to Anne and the others here, in reverse. Something like it is probably happening to everybody everywhere, really. If Dave's brain didn't change along with his body, he'd probably be as freaked out at the idea of sex with a marsupial woman as Anne was at the idea of sex with him... Yeah. She told me more today about that first meeting with Dave than she said in her email. Google "marsupial reproduction", or rather, *don't*. You can ask me more when we talk next, but you may wish you hadn't.

We ate supper in the hospital cafeteria -- and I don't know how, but it's far better than any other hospital cafeteria I've ever eaten at, even Crawford Long; as good as a sit-down restaurant. Anne says it's gotten a lot better now that the kitchen staff know they're cooking for family and not just co-workers. (I'd asked Anne to come to a restaurant with me, but she refused and told me that the cafeteria was really good, which of course I didn't believe until I'd eaten several bites.) We talked during supper and for several hours afterward; then I left to go find a motel. More about that in a minute. But as I talked to Anne I realized that, yeah, she's the same person, biological changes aside -- by that I include the changes in her brain, the way her sex drive works and some other related things. She still laughs at the same kinds of jokes, with the same weird staccato chortle, still likes and dislikes the same foods, still reads the same paranormal romances.

I said what happened to us was happening to Anne and the rest of the "Greenview family" in reverse. What I mean is, we still love each other in a focused, exclusive way; if I remember right you described it as being exactly like *Eros* without the sex, which seemed weird at the time, but now it makes perfect sense, because the way Anne talked about her -- pardon my French, but her fuckbuddies -- it was *Storge* with sex added. Affection, strong and unconditional but not exclusive, with a strong component of sexual attraction. People have been trying that on a fairly large scale since the 60s, and more sporadically for all of recorded history and probably longer, and it never worked because it rubs human nature the wrong way; *Eros* is a jealous god. But does human nature still exist anywhere in the form we're used to it? The more I saw of this Greenview commune, or rather nest or hive -- now that I think of it "nest" seems like the best word, because this is definitely a mammalian kind of thing here, not insectoid at all -- the more I think that this *Storge*-plus-sex is somehow natural and right for Anne and the others here. And maybe there's something we're missing about how this *Eros*-minus-sex we feel now is good for us. I miss you frantically and I want to talk to you for hours and hours about this when I see you, but my cellphone isn't getting any reception to speak of at this motel, though I easily got my laptop talking to the wireless network with a little help from the very competent and helpful IT guy on staff.

It's a tiny independent motel a mile or two from the hospital, which belongs to a couple from Pakistan who are now the paterfamilias and materfamilias of a commune like the one at Greenview Hospital: the owner-managers and their children, plus the maids who were on duty on Valentine's Day, all the guests who were in their rooms at that time of day, and a few random people who were sitting in their cars at the intersection in front of the motel at the time of the changes. The IT guy I mentioned was on his way from Miami to visit his family in Indianapolis, stopped here for the night late on Friday, and slept late; when he woke up, he told me, he had a new family, and he spent the next few days fixing up his new home with a wireless network, and has been working since then on overhauling the office computers and creating a website for the place. Apparently the motel family are all squeezed into a few rooms on either side of the management office, three or four to a bed, like the folks at Greenview.

I'll probably meet Anne for breakfast tomorrow and then head home.

See you soon! XOX