I hadn’t seen Jon for almost ten years, and if anyone had asked me, I would have been fully prepared for the idea that I might not recognize him. Ten years does a great deal to a body, after all, and Chronos is kinder to some than to others. Since that trip to Southern California, where Jon had then lived and worked, I had put on a few pounds myself and gone through several surgeries. Life itself can change you, the way your hold your head, the way you carry yourself as you walk; and we change ourselves, with exercise and food, and with clothing and cosmetics.
I would have expected Jon to change, had I expected to see him at all: but I wasn’t. There was no reason to think he was in town. What wasn’t immediately obvious was that he expected even less to see me.
When I encountered Jon, he was working in the Olympia public library. I normally stopped by there during the winter theater season to catch up on my script reading. You see, I never audition for a play I haven’t read, and the library keeps a copy of each of the theater’s scripts for the season on hand. Before each audition I would spend an afternoon there on my day off, perusing each script, getting familiar with the material.
That day I was there to read a Richard Greenberg play. I had to run across the parking lot through a sudden squall of hailstones that crashed through the canopy of trees around the library and rattled every car in the lot. Ten minutes ago there had been sunlight shining through the scudding clouds; an hour ago, there was wind. It was as if the weather couldn’t decide today what it wanted to be.
When I got in, I was soaked. I stamped my feet in the foyer between the sliding doors, then went up to the information desk and politely asked the librarian for a copy of the script I wanted. Something was odd about the young man behind the counter: he looked weary, and perplexed, as if perpetually harried by the worst day of all possible Bad Days.
He gave me a strange look, as if trying to remember something. I was on the verge of reminding him which script I had wanted, when he said, “Corey?”
I gave him another look: he seemed vaguely familiar. It took me a moment to realize who it was. Of course it was Jon, though not quite as I had remembered him. He was perhaps the same height, and somewhat slimmer of build, but where before his hair was a sandy, tousled blond, it was now dark and curly. His gray-blue eyes were now dark, liquid. His face, once rounded, now had a more angular, exotic look. Somehow, despite this, it was unmistakably he.
“Jon?” I asked him, frowning. “I didn’t recognize you! Did you dye your hair?”
Jon gave me a long-suffering look. “I don’t know,” he said, exasperated. “Did I?”
“I think so,” I said. “Your hair used to be blond, right? Parted on the left.”
He did the strangest thing. He actually pulled at his dark bangs, trying to bring a lock of hair into his field of vision, rolling his eyes up to see it. “Did that change, too? I need a mirror,” he muttered.
“You should have said something,” I said cheerfully. “I hadn’t heard that you were moving into town.”
“Neither had I,” he said darkly.
“Did something come up?” I asked. I tried for a few moments to come up with a logical explanation why Jon would be called upon to move two thousand miles to a small city in the middle of the Pacific Northwest to staff my hometown library. Nothing came to mind.
“When I woke up this morning,” Jon said slowly, “I was living in California. I drove to work, in California. But now I’m here.” He watched me carefully, gauging my reaction.
“I talked to you a couple of days ago online,” I said, frowning. “You didn’t say anything about moving up here. In fact, you were talking about wildfires. I assumed you were still down there.”
“I was,” he said. “Believe me, I was. I’ve had a very interesting morning.”
“Tell me,” I said.
He hadn’t had a very good morning, he said. For a start, he woke up late, with the last tattered vestiges of a haunting dream still echoing in his subconscious. All he could really remember of it was the sound of shears. A tidy, fastidious sound, he had said: short, workmanlike snips, like someone trimming an errant thread from a woolly sweater. What possible association this might have had in the dream itself, he couldn’t recall.
It was one of those days. As he rushed around his apartment, racing to get ready for work, he found several things maddeningly out of place. His shoes were in the hall closet, as if put away. The keys to his Toyota were on the kitchen counter beside the refrigerator. He couldn’t find his hairbrush, and instead had to dig a comb out of a drawer. He was absolutely certain he had finished all his laundry over the weekend, yet there was not a clean stitch of clothing in the house.
“And this was all still in California,” I said. I was leaning on the library counter, while Jon sat behind, explaining all of this in a low voice.
“Yes,” he said, and nodded. “I’m getting to that.”
Jon left for work, determined not to arrive late. The sound of the shears from his dream continued to linger, snipping away in the back of his mind, while the images and happenings of the dream remained tantalizingly out of focus.
Distracted from his drive by thoughts of this unremembered dream, he missed his freeway exit. He looked for the next exit, so he could get turned around and backtrack. Jon pulled off the freeway on the very next available off-ramp, only to discover he was in town, within shouting distance of the library. He couldn’t remember switching on the interchange between Highway 52 and Interstate 15.
When he arrived at the University library, he found he wasn’t two minutes late, he was twenty-eight minutes early. He wasn’t due in until ten o’clock, the staffer near the door said; why had he arrived at nine-thirty?
“What’s more,” Jon added, “when I walked in, I was going into the National University Library. I knew all the staff members, I knew where I was. When I went outside for lunch...” He spread his hands. “Suddenly I’m here. The trees outside caught me a little by surprise, I can tell you.”
“The library — my library, the one at home — is alongside a busy street, near the freeway. This one is shaded by a whole forest, I guess. Out in the woods.” He hesitated. “I’m not even sure where the freeway is from here.”
“Didn’t the staffers notice you weren’t supposed to be here?”
“That’s the strange thing,” Jon said. “They didn’t notice at all. In fact, it’s the same staff as in California. All of us moved up here, and they think it’s perfectly normal. They don’t even remember being down there.”
“It’s like history changed,” I suggested.
“Yes, exactly,” Jon said. “Like it was always that way.”
I shrugged. “So how come I remember it?”
Jon shook his head. “No idea.”
After obtaining a copy of the script I wanted, I sat down in one of the comfortable orange library chairs near a shelf full of documentaries on DVD. For the next two hours or so, I set aside Jon’s unusual morning and immersed myself in a play about baseball, about a young superstar named Darren Lemming who reveals to the media that he is gay. It was a well-crafted story, but I didn’t think there was a part in it for me — I don’t exactly keep in fighting trim, and I wouldn’t be mistaken for a baseball player, especially not during the on-stage nude shower scenes. Why our local community theater dared to select a play with on-stage nudity was anybody’s guess.
I brought the script back to the Reference counter to return it, and there I saw Jon again, looking more puzzled and distressed than he had before. I asked him what was wrong.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Tell me,” Jon said, his brow creased in bewilderment, “you remember everything, right? I mean, you remember my old life? You remember what it was like before all this changed?”
“Do you remember if I had a girlfriend?”
I thought about it for a moment. “I don’t remember you mentioning one,” I said diplomatically.
“Apparently I have one now,” Jon said. “Her name is Cassandra. She’s Greek. Dark-haired, about two years younger than me.” He paused just a moment, and added, “Gorgeous.”
I grinned. “So whoever it is that’s messing with your life, they’re not exactly out to get you. It’s not all bad.”
“I’ve never met her,” Jon said, distressed. “Not until just now. She came in, while you were reading that script. She says we have to talk. It sounds like I’m in trouble. I don’t even know what I did!”
“Maybe she’ll be nice, and give you a hint what it was.”
Jon ignored that. “This is so confusing. And right before she came in, I swear I heard it again.”
“Shears,” he explained. “Snip, snip.”
“Maybe you were daydreaming?”
“Maybe it was somebody in the library, using a pair of scissors?”
Jon shook his head decisively. “It sounded very close, but there was nobody around.”
“I’d say you must have imagined it,” I said jokingly, “but you probably didn’t, given what’s happened to you so far today.”
“Didn’t you hear it?” he asked, looking hopefully at me.
“Not a thing,” I said. “Ask your girlfriend, though. Perhaps she did.”
“I’ll ask her when she gets back,” Jon said. “She’s picking me up from work tonight.”
“I thought you said you drove.”
“I thought I had,” Jon said wearily. “But I hadn’t — I mean I did, but I hadn’t driven to work any more. Luckily, it changed.”
He sighed. “Because I have absolutely no idea where I live.”
We traded emails and phone numbers, and promised each other we’d keep in touch. The weather continued poorly for the next few days, fluctuating wildly from thunderstorms and slashing rain, to periods of sunshine, and even flurries of snow. The latter made the roads treacherous, so it was difficult to stop by the library to visit Jon, but we traded emails.
On Wednesday morning, Jon left me an email that sounded somewhat distressed, but he hadn’t said why, only to stop the library as soon as possible and he’d explain in person. I wasn’t keen on staying late at work that night, and there was a windstorm brewing which threatened to knock out the power, so I made some excuse to leave work at three in the afternoon. It was easy: the clinic was eerily quiet, as if every one of our patients had decided to stay home too.
It took me some time to get there. The light at Pacific Avenue had already gone out and a policeman, drenched despite a yellow rain slicker, stood directing traffic. The intersection was backed up for a quarter of a mile.
I finally arrived at the library and found a place to park — by then it was showing signs of sunshine again — and hurried in to meet Jon.
But he wasn’t there. I couldn’t find him anywhere. The Reference desk was unmanned.
I walked through the Olympia Public Library a few times, trying to spot him, but he didn’t appear to be at work. I wondered what could have happened, and decided I would ask one of his co-workers.
“Can I help you?” a stern-faced woman in her fifties asked, looking at me over the top of her reading glasses.
“Yes, I came by to talk to Jon. Is he in?”
“Jon?” she asked blankly. “I’m sorry? You mean an employee named Jon? We don’t have a Jon here.”
“Are you sure? I was here just a couple of days ago,” I protested, all the while wondering if yet another change had occurred, and Jon had been transported back to — no, that couldn’t be it, because Jon had asked me to visit. Where was he?
The stern-faced woman’s colleagues were looking over at me with the mild, detached curiosity of those who were thoroughly bored and were studying the only thing of interest that day to occur. “I’m sorry,” she said again, “there’s no employee here at this branch named Jon.”
Another of the librarians looked up at the conversation, sudden interest in her eye. I couldn’t help but notice her: she was a stunning young Mediterranean woman with dusky brown skin, curly black shoulder-length hair pinned back into a ponytail, and dark, hypnotic eyes. She was wearing a bright magenta jacket that accentuated the deep, peek-a-boo cleavage of a white scoop-necked shirt, and a hip-hugging gray pencil skirt. I glanced over in her direction for a moment — all right, for more than a moment: she looked exasperated even as I tore my gaze away — and turned back to the older woman before me.
“Uh, I must have made a mistake,” I stammered. I should go home and check my email, I thought. Or my phone messages. Something must have happened.
The young beauty had come around the counter and was now grabbing my elbow. “Come on, Corey,” she said with a trace of steel in her voice, “we’re going to lunch.”
“Now,” she said insistently, pulling me toward the door.
I let her pull me outside. The wind had cropped up, and leaves were tumbling through the air as if in a hurry to get away from us. “Let me guess,” I hazarded. “You’re Jon?”
“Good guess,” the young woman said through clenched teeth. “Where did you park?”
“I guess I’m driving?”
“Unless you want to drive in these heels,” Jon grated.
There is a certain quality of menace that only a female larynx can produce, and I heard it now. “I’m over there,” I offered, gesturing in the direction of my car.
I even let Jon into the passenger side first. I can be polite when I put my mind to it.
“Shears?” I guessed.
“Yeah,” Jon said, toying with her salad. We had been seated with alacrity in a spacious booth at the Shari’s restaurant down the street from the library. “Shears.”
“Snip, snip,” I said jokingly.
She looked up at me, her eyes flashing.
“Sorry,” I said, apologizing hurriedly.
Jon shook her head. “No, I’m sorry. I’m just a little more sensitive now, I think. Irritable. I don’t know why. I mean, I’ve got every reason to be upset, but it’s not that. I’m just ... I don’t know, I can’t explain. Touchy.”
“You know,” I said slowly, uncertain how to mention it, “I’m a little surprised that for your first day as a woman, you chose to wear that.”
She looked down into her own cleavage for a moment, a look of weary befuddlement on her flawless face. “So am I,” she said. “So am I.”
“You’re surprised? Why? Didn’t you put that on this morning?”
“As a matter of fact, I didn’t,” Jon said tartly. “I put on a sensible green sweater and slacks. Three times! I put it on three times. Each time I got out the door, I’d get to the car, I’d almost be ready to leave, suddenly I notice that I’m wearing this again. Not that you probably object,” she added, with a wry grin.
“I’d be lying if I said I minded,” I admitted, “but it is a bit distracting.”
Jon put her elbows on the table, and put her chin in her tiny hands, and sighed heavily. “What’s been happening?” she asked plaintively. “I don’t get it. Last week everything was perfectly normal, and this week, one day at a time, everything has been changing. My home, my job, my life, my car—”
“Your car? Didn’t you drive a little Toyota sedan?”
“Not any more.”
“Even my body has changed. Shears,” she said. “Snip, snip. Like somebody has been cutting out bits of my old life.”
“What does your girlfriend think of all this?” I asked curiously. “What was her name, Katherine?”
“Cassandra,” she corrected absently. “And she’s not my girlfriend.”
“Well, the woman that you think is your—”
“She’s not a woman any more,” Jon sighed. “That changed, too.”
“Cassandra is a man?”
“Sandy,” Jon said. “And my name is Jean, now. That’s what it says on my driver’s license.”
“At least you’re still in the library business,” I said. “I mean, it could be worse. You could be a—”
“Don’t say it,” she warned. “Don’t give the universe any funny ideas.” Jean’s expression changed as she glanced over my shoulder toward the restaurant’s entrance. “Oh, no,” she said. “It’s Sandy. He’s here.”
“Sandy?” I asked. “Your girlf— I mean, your boyfriend?”
“Yeah,” Jean said, making an obvious effort not to look in that direction. “I just hope he isn’t the jealous type. Oh, he’s coming this way. I’ll just say you’re a friend, okay?”
“Whatever you say.”
In a moment, Sandy loomed over the table good-naturedly, smiling down at the two of us, especially at Jean. “Hello, love,” he said to her in a friendly baritone. “Somehow, I knew you’d be here. Do you mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” Jean said, sliding over to make room. She made a face at me like “now what?” as Sandy sat down heavily into the booth beside her.
Sandy might once have been a woman, from what Jean had said, but it certainly wasn’t obvious now. He was all of six-foot-two, lean, muscular, broad-shouldered, with curly blonde hair that strayed down well past his ears in an endearing, boyish tangle. If Adonis had been a surfer, he might have looked something like Sandy.
“Bit of a mess out there,” Sandy said, nodding at the window. Outside the wind and rain continued to torment the landscape. “How are you doing, love? You look like something must be wrong.”
“I’m okay, Sandy,” Jean said, hesitating a moment. “Just a bit confused. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“Confused, eh?” Sandy grinned. “Like the weather.”
“Well, perhaps I can alleviate some of that confusion,” Sandy suggested. “Are you sure there isn’t anything you’d like to get off your chest?”
Jean glanced involuntarily at her own chest, then looked warily into Sandy’s eyes. “Like what?”
Sandy shrugged. “These past few days must have been very frightening for you,” he said. “Everything has been changing, you find yourself up here in Olympia, your whole life has been turned upside down—”
Jean gaped at him. “You know?” she asked, stunned. “You know about all of this?”
“Of course I know. So I thought you might like to have someone to talk to that understands what it’s like. You see, I think I’m partially responsible for what’s been happening to you.”
“You’ve been doing this to me?” Jean asked angrily. “Playing with me, changing everything, making me wear this—”
“No, no, no,” Sandy said soothingly. “I didn’t. I didn’t do any of that. But I may be the cause of it.”
He paused. “Do you know who you are?”
Jean seemed taken aback for a moment. “I’m not sure any more,” she said. “I’m supposed to be Jon.”
“You are,” Sandy said. “And you’re more than that. You are the last living descendant of the goddess Demeter.”
“Demeter?” I asked. “Greek god of something?”
“Greek goddess,” Jean corrected me. She appeared to be listening, and thinking hard. “Harvest and fertility. Seasons.”
“How is that possible?” I demanded.
“How?” Sandy asked me, amused. “You don’t question it when your friend becomes a woman, but you balk at the idea of Greek goddesses?”
“That was just myth,” I protested.
“Suit yourself,” Sandy said simply. “You’ll find out sooner or later.”
“What does that mean?”
He ignored me and turned back to Jean. “The heredity of the Earth Mother passes through the female line,” he explained. “In order for Demeter’s line to pass to a new generation, you’re going to have to have a daughter.”
“A daughter?” Jean stammered. “Wait, slow down, I need to what?”
“Have a baby,” Sandy said. “Become a mother. That’s why they’ve been changing everything.”
“They? They who, the gods?”
Sandy pointed across the restaurant. “Them.”
We turned to look, and there saw two sisters, transparently alike, one in green, the other in white. Both had a timeless, ageless quality to them, though the one in the green dress seemed more matronly, older and more sensible; and the woman in white seemed fresher, more youthful.
The two women approached the table.
“Jean,” Sandy said with great formality, “may I present to you the daughters of Night, Clotho and Lachesis.”
“The Fates,” Jean murmured. “Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos.”
“Don’t we get to meet Atropos, then?” I asked.
“Everybody does,” Clotho said cheerfully.
“Once,” Lachesis agreed.
“We had to make a few changes,” Clotho said.
“Trim out some old threads,” Lachesis continued.
“Give you a fresh start.”
“Get you on the right path.”
“Why me?” Jean wailed. “Why didn’t you take one of Demeter’s other descendants somewhere? One who’s supposed to be a woman, instead of making me into one?”
“The others are all dead,” Clotho objected.
“Their time was up,” Lachesis nodded. “But if you’d like to trade places with one of them, you have only to say.”
Jean held up her hands quickly. “No, no, that’s not what I meant — I mean, why did the others have to die?”
The two Fates looked at Jean as if she’d asked why rats have tails.
“That’s just the way it is,” Clotho said, with a puzzled frown on her youthful face.
“It’s the way we want it,” Lachesis added. “The way it’s going to be.”
“You didn’t even ask!” Jean objected.
“Ask?” Clotho laughed. “Ask? What a silly idea.”
“Did Narcissus ask to be turned into a flower?” Lachesis demanded.
“Did Actaeon ask to be turned into a stag?”
“Did Caeneus ask to be turned from a woman into a man?”
“Actually, she did,” Clotho pointed out.
“Not that it would have mattered,” Lachesis shrugged. “We would have done it anyway.”
“Cousins, please,” Sandy interrupted suavely. “I can tell Jean what she must do for Demeter’s line, but you’re frightening her. If you’d be so kind to let me explain it to her in my own way, in my own time?”
Clotho turned to Lachesis. “Would we be so kind?”
“Kind?” Lachesis mused. “I think I remember how to be that.”
Abruptly, the two ladies were no longer present — at least, I reminded myself, badly shaken, they were no longer visibly so.
Jean, recovering slightly from the shock of having her universe turned upside down, took Sandy’s bicep possessively. “Why didn’t you tell me earlier? Why didn’t you say? Cousins?” she asked, disgusted. “You’re related to those... those...”
“Careful, now,” Sandy said sotto voce. “You’re related to them too.”
Jean put her face into her hands. “This is giving me a headache.”
“The gods were all interrelated,” Sandy said. “Inbred, I guess you could say. Brothers and sisters having children, cousins... well, they’re gods. It’s different for them — no genes, you see. Gods don’t operate that way. All that inbreeding caused problems for them, not like you’d see with mortals, it’s... it’s more complicated. Don’t worry about that right now. Just know that the gods themselves began to change and distort, over the centuries, due to all that interbreeding. They needed infusions of mortal bloodlines to make themselves strong again.”
“So that’s why all the demigods?” Jean asked in a small voice. “Heracles, Theseus, Perseus?”
“Naturally. You’re descended from Demeter and Poseidon, on your mother’s side, through Arion the poet. I’m descended from Artemis on my mother’s side, and from Apollo on my father’s side.”
“But weren’t Artemis and Apollo...”
“Brother and sister, yes. Twins. Like I said, it works differently for the gods. The Fates want you to carry on Demeter’s line, and since she’s goddess of the Earth and seasons, it means you have to bear a child.”
“Who’s the father?” Jean demanded. “Not you?”
Sandy shrugged again. “I once thought so, but I also thought the Fates would give you some more time to adjust. We barely know each other. Maybe one day—” He sighed.
“And then what? I get to go back to being a man, I hope?”
“We’ll see,” Sandy smiled mysteriously. “It might be my turn to the mother, next. You never know, with the Fates.”
Outside, the sun began to peek through the clouds.
And that was that. I’d like to think that Jean and Sandy — or Jon and Cassandra, as they sometimes were — lived happily ever after. They certainly had two of the most pampered daughters one could ever hope to see, raised by two mothers and two fathers who were the same two people, and watched over by the Fates (or at least by two of them).
Jean was never adequately able to explain to me why I was conscious of all these changes being made to the world, while the rest of the citizens of Olympia seemingly were not. Perhaps it had something to do with the whimsical nature of Clotho and Lachesis, for the sisters seemed to enjoy tormenting mortals for sport. Perhaps they placed me in Jon’s path so I could lead him to the restaurant where he would meet up with Cassandra.
Or perhaps it’s because of the dream I had two nights ago. All I can remember of it was the snipping sound of shears.