A Few Normal Things That Happen A Lot

Gwen E. Kirby

A woman walks down the street and a man tells her to smile. When she smiles, she reveals a mouthful of fangs. She bites off the man’s hand, cracks the bones and spits them out, accidentally swallows his wedding ring, which gives her indigestion. 

• • •

A woman waits for the bus and a man stands too close. He puts his hand on her ass, not knowing she is the first successful subject of a top-secret experiment. She turns her laser eyes on him and transforms him into bus fare: two dollars and seventy-five cents in cool coins.

• • •

A woman is at the grocery store and a man in the frozen food aisle says, “Nice legs.” He follows her past the broccoli. “Why’s a pretty girl like you here alone?” Past the tubs of Cool Whip. “You got a boyfriend?” Past the ice cream cakes. “Don’t you want to say something nice?” She stops at the endcap. There’s a sale on chips and salsa. Yesterday, she would not have stopped. She would have feigned fascination with the cheeses, lingered over the pasta sauce, waited for the man to get bored, prayed for the man to get bored. She would have left, buying nothing, the dark parking lot endless, every car disguising a threat.

Luckily, last night she was bitten by a radioactive cockroach. Under her clothes, she is covered in armor. Her sense are heightened. When he asks, “You shy or just a bitch?” she hisses at a decibel that shatters the jars of salsa, studs the man’s chest with small shards of glass. Salsa splatters everywhere and a chunk of tomato lands on the hem of her skirt, which is sad, because it’s newly dry cleaned. In the dark, arms full of groceries, the parking lot is beautiful in a way she’s never noticed. A fine rain drifts across the weak lights. The asphalt shimmers and the cars hide nothing.

• • •

A woman sits alone in her apartment and hears her neighbor, who is drunk, banging down the hall. She does not check her lock, tug the chain to feel it stick. Instead, she picks up the remote control given to her by a witch. If anyone comes in, she will point the remote at the door and turn him off.

• • •

A woman jogs on a cold day and a man jogs fifty, thirty, twenty feet behind her. They are the only two people on this path, a narrow ribbon tracing the river, her favorite place to run. She speeds up, and so does he. Her heart begins to hammer and she curses herself, stupid bitch, people have told you not to run alone, you know better, stupid bitch, but then she remembers, thank god! She was recently scratched by a werewolf! The woman lets herself change a bit, turns to the man, and pulls off her gloves. Underneath, her hands are covered in fur, the pads black and leathery, and when she extends her claws the man yelps and runs away. The woman rubs her cold cheeks with her soft fur. She breathes deep and falls back into her even pace.

• • •

A woman is on the subway and a man sits next to her even though there are many empty seats. The woman folds her small hands in her lap. The man takes out his dick and begins to masturbate. The woman stands and exits at the next stop. The woman’s heart is not racing, she does not feel nauseous, and she does not wonder what she would have done if the man had followed her.

No, once she steps onto the platform and the doors close behind her, the woman does not think about the man ever again. This is her superpower, bestowed on her as a baby by her alien mother. She feels absolutely fine and does bit of work in the early evening before deciding she’s tired and ordering Chinese. She sleeps deeply.

• • •

A woman goes on a date with a man and while they are walking to the restaurant, they see a woman bite off a man’s hand. The man on the date rushes to the man on the ground, who is bleeding profusely. The woman on the date asks where the woman with fangs got those teeth. “They look great on you,” she says.

“Do you think so?” the other woman asks. “They’re exactly what I needed for that extra boost of confidence.”

For the rest of the date, the man with two hands is extremely respectful.

• • •

The cockroach woman goes to the bank and hopes someone will rob it, so she can use her new and amazing powers. Instead, a man in front of her is talking to a woman. The man interrupts the woman. “The thing is,” the man says, “it’s just too easy to generalize, you know?” The cockroach woman considers ripping off the man’s arm, but that would be an overreaction. She deposits a check and feels glum as she walks to work, her newly grown antennae vibrating in the breeze.

• • •

The same man takes his dick out on the subway. He is sitting next to the woman with a mouthful of fangs. She freezes for a moment, but it’s really happening, it’s really happening, and so she leans over and bites off his dick. She spits it out. No bones in it to break. She leaves it harmless on the floor and gets off at the next stop. She keeps her face calm—she is used to ignoring the screams and the blood—but the taste lingers the rest of the way home. 

• • •

The woman with the magical remote control takes it with her everywhere, in her purse next to her pepper spray and a half eaten bag of M&Ms, twisted tight shut. She wouldn’t use the remote in public; there is no way to know that she’d hit her target. In a recurring nightmare, a man is yelling at her for messing up his order, a two shot half-caf skim latte you stupid cunt and in her anger she turns off the entire coffee shop, the entire block, the whole world, and she presses rewind, rewind, but it’s too late.

She won’t take the remote out, but as she walks down the street, she enjoys a fantasy in which she slips her hand into her purse and presses pause. In the still city, she can do anything she wants. She walks for miles, down small alleys, through wooded parks, past the corner where the homeless man yells obscenities, but see, he’s quiet now. She’s brought them both peace.

• • •

Werewolf-woman has never before loved being in her body, but now she lets her fur out whenever she is home. She’s at her most powerful when she’s naked. Sometimes, late at night, she stands in the backyard and howls not because she is sad but because her lungs are strong and it is a joy to turn air into sound. Her husband sees how happy she is and he asks her to scratch him, turn him, too. She wants to want to. She tries to explain to him that this is kind of her thing, that she needs this for herself. What she knows but can’t find the courage to say is that she needs it to not be for him. He says he understands and she knows he’ll never quite forgive her.

• • •

The fanged woman eats a donut on a park bench, though the fangs make it hard. She is in a bad mood. Her tongue is sore, her cheeks nipped raw, and her blazer is dusted in powdered sugar. She wishes a man would make some comment so she could bite him, but no one does. The fangs, after all, are easy to see.

She calls her friend who forgets. “Most days I’m fine,” she says, her s’s emerging with a slight hiss. “It’s just days like today I’m tired.”

“That sounds terrible,” her friend says, though she wishes they weren’t always talking about men. The friend who forgets picks at a seed stuck in her dull teeth. The woman with fangs dusts off the sugar and says she needs to go.

• • •

A woman walks down the hall of a large academic building after hours. She is eighteen, a freshman, and at least once a week there’s an email from the college about a sexual assault in the area. At the bottom of every email is a bullet-point list for ways to keep herself from harm. Despite the warnings not to be, she is there to pick up a paper from her professor’s mailbox. When she gets to the mailroom, the door is locked. All this for nothing, and here is the stairwell again. When she was fourteen, a man in a stairwell stopped her to ask a question, pressed her against a wall, groped her breasts. She runs down the stairs. Tonight, they are empty except for the men she peoples them with, and they reach for her like the branches in Snow White’s dark forest. She hates that she is a coward, is angry that she calls herself a coward.

If her imagination were not occupied, she would notice a twenty-dollar bill on the final landing. She would pick up the bill and spend it on a novel or a movie, maybe pay back a friend. A sophomore man finds the money later that night when he is walking calmly down the stairwell. He thinks about a movie he’s going to make with his friends, which they will shoot in the park at night while getting high. He enters it in the college film festival and places second. Years later, he is a director of indie films.

Luckily for the woman, she arrives home safely and the next day is bitten by a radioactive cockroach. Radioactive cockroaches are sweeping the city. She loves her new powers, but she doesn’t know how to tell the man she’s dating about the changes to her body, so they break up.

• • •

The woman who watched the woman with fangs bite off the hand of the man gets fangs for herself. She snaps them at her reflection in the mirror. There is blood on the fangs like she imagined, except it’s her own blood, from where her gums are still aching and raw.

• • •

The government finds out about the radioactive cockroaches when the mayor’s wife is bitten in her sleep. The mayor, though they share a bed, is unbitten and unchanged. What a strange thing! What is happening! No one knows, and the infection is spreading quickly. The mayor’s wife is taken in for testing. The press reports that the wife is ill and taking some time out of the public eye. On Reddit, conspiracy theories tangle and grow like vines.

• • •

A woman walks down the street and absolutely no one bothers her. She smiles at the other women she passes. They smile back. Something is different.

• • •

A woman wears a pair of fake antennae and takes her trash out to the alley behind her apartment, where she’s always been too afraid to go at night. No one bothers her, except for a large rat, who is plump and resentful.

• • •

Now that she can pretend to be a cockroach, the woman with fangs considers having them removed but in the end, she has grown too used to feeling safe. What if the radioactive cockroaches prove not to be the answer? What if there is a special taser? What if the scientists hard at work discover a cure? She keeps her fangs and accepts that her mouth will always be a little sore.

• • •

Fake antennae sales skyrocket. The men of the city do not feel safe. The women of the city experiment. They make baths and stay under the water for thirty minutes, holding their breath deep in their new lungs. They get very drunk on the beer their cockroach bodies love and walk home under the stars and when they see a man they hiss and the man runs away and they laugh and laugh, “Can’t you take a joke?” they shriek, and they almost feel bad, because two wrongs don’t make a right but one wrong after wrong and wrong and wrong and wrong does make a cockroach woman feel better, reckless, free.

• • •

Men carry small cans of RAID in their pockets when they go outside at night. It isn’t enough, not by a long shot, but they hold them tight in their hands, a talisman as much as a protection. With all women wearing antennae, there is no way to tell which ones may be dangerous.

• • •

The woman who forgets and the woman with fangs get coffee and the woman who forgets tells the woman with fangs that she doesn’t understand this new fashion trend.

“I tried on a pair,” she says, “but it flattened my hair and gave me a headache.”

The woman with fangs is on antibiotics. One of her teeth has developed an abscess.

“Headaches are the worst,” she says, and begins to cry.

• • •

A man cuts off the head of his cockroach girlfriend while she’s asleep. She staggers up and kills him and still has a whole week to live. She walks down the city streets holding her head under her arm so that she can see where she’s going. She writes an article for BuzzFeed about embracing the time she has left, but the truth is, her severed throat is tight with terror. She wishes she had died three days ago, that she’d never become a cockroach. Nothing is worse than knowing that the man she loved cut off her head, except the knowledge that killing him has not made her whole again. 

• • •

Two women are in their secret lab full of radioactive cockroaches. They wear long white lab coats and thick goggles. Their red rubber gloves go up to their elbows.

“I hope we did the right thing,” one woman says as she gently injects a new serum into a cockroach, then places him in jar #B872. 

“I think getting Marianna the changing table was the perfect choice,” the other woman replies, her head bent over a beaker, waiting for the orange liquid to cool.

They work long hours and it is always a relief when it’s time to go home. They talk about plans for the evening as they peel off their goggles and gloves and coats. Under their clothes, they are mosaics of failed experiments. Scars across cheeks, toenails hardened into claws, patches of skin that are stone and fur and scales. One woman has the interlocking armor of an armadillo down her spine. The other has a single wing that can’t unfold all the way; the feathers clog her shower drain.

The women step outside, put on their fake antennae, and walk home holding hands. A man coming toward them nods respectfully and gives them a wide berth. They smile at each other, not evil smiles, but not nice ones, either. They feel good and safe, but not as good and safe as they’d imagined. They are distracted from the stars and the cool night air by the places on their bodies that ache and pull and pinch, the itching that never stops. They are proud of what they’ve done, but still they sometimes wish they could be smooth and whole, some softer version of themselves.

Gwen E. Kirby‘s stories appear in One Story, Guernica, Ninth Letter, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Currently, she is the George Bennett Fellow at Phillips Exeter Academy.