“At the Frontier of Prejudice” by Leslie Cohen

Nothing fits me right! Since the operation, all my clothes are too tight in the waist and too loose in the shoulders and the hips. And I still get dizzy every time I stand up.

It all started with the accident. I was in a car crash, but I don't remember it at all. I was dragged out of the wreck unconscious, and I had an operation after that.

While I was coming to, I heard voices somewhere above me.

"Her head was crushed. She's lucky to be alive at all," said one of them.

"I know," said another. "Both of the parents were killed."

Another voice whispered, "That crazy doctor, Antoine Watteau - he finally did what he was planning to do!"

"Oh, my God!" the other voices responded.

"Are you awake, dearie?" someone asked me, in a voice tinged with artificial cheer. I didn't answer. I sensed I couldn't trust anyone.

After that, I twisted and squirmed all night long, trying to break out of the body I had been sewn into. I knew it wasn't my own body and I couldn't stand being in it. I thrashed all over the bed until I fell on the floor and I was ready to dig my teeth into anything made of flesh. But the floor felt like concrete and I was surrounded by hard metal objects.

In the morning, as I lay on the floor in pain, a man entered my room and rushed to help me. I was so furious that I wanted to lash out at him, but I caught his eye, or maybe he caught mine, and I was transfixed. I couldn't move. I was paralyzed. Hypnotized.

That was Antoine, and it was love at first sight. Mad as I was, I couldn't strike out at him.

Antoine gently picked me up and put me back into the bed. He sat by my side and stroked me from shoulder to toe, while speaking to me in a soft, calm voice. "Relax, Selena, just relax," he said. He stayed with me all day long and I started to feel like maybe I would be okay.

I complained to Antoine that I got dizzy whenever I tried to stand up, so he brought in a couch and propped my head up on soft pillows. Now I could half sit and half lie down. That made me feel much better. But something so strange had happened to me - I knew I'd never feel normal again.

In the weeks that followed, Antoine spent hours with me every day. He told me he was my surgeon, and promised not to leave me with the nurses who were so nasty to me. They all looked at me as if I was some sort of a monster, instead of a teenage girl who had just been orphaned. Even though my eyesight was still blurry, I could see the disgust in their eyes. Every time one of them came near me, I could feel my flesh crawl with loathing.

But Antoine was kind to me. He would spend hours just stroking my back very, very gently.

"It's been a terrible shock," he said, with his warm hand resting on my spine. "Of course you feel awful."

I cried a lot during those first few weeks, and Antoine didn't try to stop me. He said, "Those tears will wash out your eyes and help you see better. They'll clean out the pain in your heart, too."

Antoine understood me so well! I was thrilled when he told me that I would be going home with him, instead of to the orphanage that the social worker had told me about. The orphanage sounded scary - I just knew it would be filled with people looking at me in that ugly, threatening way.

Antoine had fixed up a room especially for me. He had taken things from my old bedroom: some clothing, my fluffy pillows and even my stuffed dolls, so everything smelled familiar and felt comfortable.

Even so, none of my clothes fit me right. Antoine says that's because the accident twisted my whole body out of shape.

My eighteenth birthday is coming soon and Antoine says I don't have to go back to high school if I don't want to. I can't remember anything about my studies anyway, and the books Antoine brought from my old bedroom don't mean a thing to me. The only stuff from my old room that really interests me is my disks, especially the trance music. Antoine says that, even though I've been through Hell and worse, I'm still a typical teenager, the way I love music.

Antoine went to a lot of trouble to find out things about my family. As soon as I could walk with a cane, he took me back to my old house. He promised that, if it was too upsetting, we could leave right away. But I liked being there, except when some of the neighbors came in to say hello. They looked at me with hostility, like the nurses in the hospital, and I was relieved when they went away.

Antoine told me a lot about my family and we thumbed through a few picture albums together. I had been an only child, and my parents were a lot older than me. I couldn't remember them, even after we looked through the albums. Antoine said that memory comes back slowly, over a long period of time, and I shouldn't be concerned. I love to listen to him when he talks, and it doesn't matter what he's saying. I just love the rhythm of his voice.

For my eighteenth birthday, Antoine took me out to dinner and a concert. We ate at a grill, and I ordered the biggest steak they had. It came with a salad, which I tasted, and then pushed to the side of my plate.

Antoine chuckled. "I've never heard of a teenager who liked salad," he said.

The concert was a surprise. It wasn't rock music, but I liked it a lot. Antoine said it was classical Indian music, with a lot of flute. I just sat back and let the music flow through my body. Swaying in my seat, I felt wonderful.

The social worker came around to see me a few times. She always insisted on seeing me alone,"without Antoine," even though I would have preferred to have him there with me. I told her, "I feel too uncomfortable around strangers, and Antoine always makes me feel relaxed."

She said, "But I'm not a stranger, Selena. I'm your social worker. I'm here to find a way to help you. You don't need to be uncomfortable around me."

Then she asked me a lot of questions about my relationship with Antoine, and I told her the truth. Why not?

Antoine had become the center of my life. What was so strange about that? After all, he was the person I owed my life to. The social worker said that it's a surgeon's job to operate on people, and that Antoine was only doing his job. But she was wrong, and I was furious with her. Antoine cared about me, like I cared about him. So, I yelled at her, "Sure, for you, this is just a job. But, for Antoine, it isn't just his job! He really cares about me!" I told her to leave and I refused to see her again.

When winter came, the cold made me tired. I just wanted to laze around the house all day and lie on the couch, buried under a pile of warm blankets. I slept most of the day while Antoine was at work. He said that was okay. When he came home in the evenings, we had a light supper and I went right to bed.

But, in the spring, I suddenly felt like waking up. I had all sorts of energy and I felt ready to do anything. Antoine said I looked a lot better, too. I felt refreshed - as if I had shed my old skin and was wearing a new one.

One spring evening, Antoine took me out to dinner and I ate a mountain of steaks. When we got home, I still felt wide awake. And I had a new feeling - something I'd never felt before. I didn't know what to call it. Antoine and I sat on the living room couch and he held my hand, saying that he wanted to tell me something about my operation - something that would help me understand my moods.

But I didn't want to listen to him, and I curled up on the couch around a pillow, turning my back to him and trying to ignore what he was saying.

"Okay, I'll tell you some other time," he said, and he stroked my back for a long time in silence.

When Antoine was at work, I found myself walking around the house aimlessly. I had energy, but I didn't know what to do with myself. Antoine left books lying around for me to read, but they didn't interest me.

"You need something to engage your mind," he told me.

"But I don't wanna think. I wanna feel," I said.

"Okay," said Antoine. "I can see we'll have to take it slowly."

I nodded my head in agreement and shimmied my shoulders. That felt good.

While Antoine was at work, I spent a lot of hours just listening to music, especially music that had no words. Antoine had a big collection, and he kept buying more of the kind I liked.

One evening, we were sitting on the couch again. Antoine took my hand and asked, "Do you know what kind of music that is you're listening to all day long?"

I shook my head and shrugged my shoulders. Who cared?

"It's from India," he told me.

"India," I repeated, although it meant nothing to me.

"Do you know why you like it so much?" he asked me.

"I don't know and I don't care," I said. "It just makes me feel good."

"It relaxes you," he said.

"Yes," I agreed. And I snuggled closer to him on the couch. But when he tried to push me away, very gently, I got mad at him.

"You always used to stroke my back," I hissed at him, "Why don't you do that anymore?"

"Selena," he said, "you know I care about you a great deal."

"Show me!" I insisted.

"Okay," he answered, putting his arms around me. That made me feel much better. Then he started stroking my back from the neck all the way down the whole length of my spine and I curled myself around him.

"Selena," he whispered to me. "You're a very special person."

"Mm-hmm," I answered. "You are, too."

"No. I mean the way you're made is very special. There's nobody else in the world like you."

"And there's nobody like you, either," I said, wrapping my arms and legs around him. "I want you," I told him, feeling every muscle in my body tense.

"Selena, we have to be very careful," he said.

"Careful of what?"

"I don't want you to get hurt," he said.

I clutched him tighter. "You can't hurt me," I said.

I opened my mouth and stuck out my tongue, licking his lips.

"Selena, you're seducing me," he said. "I don't have the willpower to resist you. If your social worker ever found out..."

But I didn't let him finish the sentence. I sucked his lips and smoothed my arms up and down his body. Every time he tried to pull away from me and talk I grasped him closer and held him tighter.

We ended up making love that night, and that's all I thought about and waited for every evening from that night on. It was the fulfillment of all the wordless fantasies I had been having since I awakened from my winter lethargy.

On the evening of June 28th, Antoine came home and found Selena's body on the living room floor. A handwritten note lay near the body. "Death to the abomination you created, Dr. Weirdo. You had no place sewing the brain of a python into a human head. And we're coming to get you next!"

Waves of panic and despair crashed into his consciousness, but soon ebbed away. Beneath them was a deeper feeling of familiarity. This scene had been sketched centuries before he was born. Antoine realized that he had known the inevitable ending all along. So he didn't protest when the police took him into custody. It was for his own protection, they said.