by Sandra McDonald
One humid day in late summer I took my newest wife to the races. She carried a green silk parasol against the twin suns and I wore my best tunic. We sipped melon drinks in the chilly grandstands while human men lined up on the field. Naked and muddy, so ugly, but fast when properly motivated.
“You must join us in my box,” said Noaa, my grand brother-cousin, when we crossed paths on the concourse. “You as well, little one.”
Dessa curtseyed, her golden head bowed.
Such a grand day for running! At each pistol start, the contestants bolted from their lines and sprinted around the Grand Circle. “Seen one, seen them all,” yawned Noaa’s clan-wife, but the crowds cheered while digital wagers sang on wristlinks around us. Dessa sat demurely on a bench, her blue eyes placid while Noaa’s children wrestled and grunted on the floor. She said very little.
The men’s victors were watered and cooled down. The women ran with similar spirit but had more impediments – large breasts, swollen bellies. A few sobbed. One thin one fell to her knees, only to be driven onward by iki sticks. Afterward Noaa took us down to the stables to see his best entrant, a red-headed man who’d placed third in his cohort. The man kissed Noaa’s sandals and promised to do better.
“Otherwise off to the swamps with you,” Noaa threatened. To the fetid, bug-ridden, intolerable tropics, where slave labor dredged and dug until heat or illness dropped them forever into slimy water.
I noticed Dessa hanging several steps back, as was proper, and then sharing some words with a young woman chained in a paddock. Later, I asked her what they had discussed.
“She begged me to help her escape,” Dessa said, her face close to me in the dark. Her breath smelled sweet. “To smuggle her a key or knife. To take pity, I suppose.”
“And what will you do?”
“I’ve already sent a message to her owner. Please forgive me if that was presumptuous.”
I stroked her face. “Not at all. I’m proud of you.” My beautiful wife. Of Earth, but no longer human.
Sandra McDonald is the author of the recent gender-bending collection Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories and the novels The Outback Stars, The Stars Down Under, and The Stars Blue Yonder. Her short fiction has appeared in more than 30 national, small press and online magazines. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and teaches college in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit her at www. sandramcdonald. com