by Maureen F. McHugh
It hadn't always been a perfect marriage, but it was a good one. He could be
Oblivious. She could be Bitchy. Even after a thousand years, some things
remained the same. The tactics change, but it's all one battle.
For the past six decades, Isabelle had had gray eyes and high arching eyebrows,
like her husband's ex-wife. Kaylen had only been married to the ex for eight
years, but it was when he was only double digits in age. Those things shape
a plastic brain. The mind grows less pliable after the first hundred
Of course, Kaylen didn't know they were his ex-wife's eyes and
eyebrows, but Isabelle could tell that it unsettled him. That was the point.
She had learned that too much comfort was bad, and too much change was
He had always hated when she changed her appearance. He had
kept the same look for, what, almost six hundred years? Mostly, he liked
having a full head of hair. But irritants were necessary like the bit of
grit in the oyster that the animal coats with nacre, smoothing and smoothing
into the pearl.
So she had changed things, just enough to keep them
from getting static. Moved him from Ohio to Australia, and then to Hong Kong
for part of each year. And then Antarctica, which despite the dome was
really like Australia. And after that to Dacca and all over.
and eyebrows were a Bitchy touch. She couldn't remember why she'd been
angry something about when they had lived on Mars, she thought. But all
she could remember about living at the edge of the Martian pole at all, just
flashes of co-op meetings with that dark-haired woman whose name she
couldn't remember, and behind her the big picture window looking out on the
sere red desert.
She'd been angry before in the marriage, she
simmered for centuries sometimes. But still whenever he traveled she missed
him, and she felt him in her bed like a phantom limb.
He was just
back now from working in Iquique, at the foot of the Andes. He had been
gone for three years, and they had sent presents to each other. Her last
present was a mechanical golden spider, a deft thing he could operate
remotely, or just program to follow him. Giving him things, courting him,
had always made her love him. And he had sent her a copy of her favorite
Velazquez painting, the portrait of Juan de Pareja, and she hadn't even
realized he knew she loved it. She wasn't angry anymore. It was time for a
change. Hair, eyes, skin color. Maybe replace the ex's eyebrows with her own
and darken her skin until she was all a tawny color from head to toe. She
thought they both might like that.
But then the thought of it made her
tired. Hadn't she done that before?
What change did she want? What was
there left to do that she hadn't done?
Divorce? After 1,000 years? They
had spent the better part of a century apart, once, and still had come back
It was time to be reborn.
"Kaylen?" she said, and he
looked up from his reading. "Are you tired of me?" she asked.
He tilted his head back, patient, waiting for what she would
For John Kessel
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Maureen McHugh is the author of
four novels, the most recent of which is
(2001) and about two dozen stories. She received the Hugo award for her
story "The Lincoln Train," and has also been awarded the Tiptree, Lambda,
and Locus Poll awards; she has enough additional major-award nominations
(seven Nebulas, three Hugos) to wallpaper a stretch HumVee.