“Eat your lettuce, Mom.”
She looks at me absent-mindedly.
“And you are –” She tilts her head, her big blue eyes scrutinizing me with heart-wrenching innocence.
I turn away. Yesterday she rambled on and on about the day she’d bought me my first dress, though she couldn’t remember its color. Today, I’m a complete stranger. I raise my head angrily, telling the tears to flow back into my eyes.
“Oh ... well ... good-bye, then!” Her voice is pleasant and cheerful. “Say, aren’t you the real estate agent? I’ve always wanted a house on Coney Island...”
I step outside. Greg is sitting on the couch, reading a book. I glance at the cover. The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. A problem indeed, I couldn’t agree more. Greg puts away the book and stands up when he sees me.
“How is –”
“Can we have a drink now, please?” I say quietly.
He looks at me attentively and nods several times. I love the endearingly serious expression on his youthful face, the permanent frown, the compassionate sparkle in his brown eyes.
We go to the Cottontail Club. A jazz quartet is diligently performing on a tiny, dim stage, obscured by an antique bass amplifier. I listen to the chord changes during the piano solo. It’s a rhythm change in B flat, so it could be any of the dozens of songs using that particular harmonic pattern.
I order a double carrot juice macchiato for myself and Vietnamese iced coffee with condensed milk for Greg. He likes very sweet drinks.
“Pika ... I know you don’t want to hear this, but –”
Here it comes. The serious talk. He can never understand that I don’t need his words, I just need him. I want him to sit there, drink his saccharine concoction, and shut up. But he never picks up on that vibe of mine. He is male.
“Greg, I got it.” I put away the macchiato cup. It’s too hot. “It can’t be stopped. My Mom goes, and then ... we all go. We revert. It’s been scientifically proven. By the one and the only Dr. Gregory Men, whose research I certainly trust.” I try to smile, but it doesn’t really work.
I can see the despair in his eyes. He is genuinely worried about me. About all of us. He isn’t pretending, like so many other humans that are secretly happy about the reversion. He says what he thinks. That’s one of the many reasons why I love him so much.
“Don’t call me that.”
I don’t know why that nickname angers me. Must be one of those cases of my “feminine irrationality”, which stands for whatever males can’t dissect, discuss, and dogmatize with their two-dimensional minds.
“But I don’t want to call you ‘Penelope’.” He produces a crooked, boyish grin. “There is no Odysseus. Nobody you can be faithful to while he sleeps around with sirens.”
“Odysseus never slept with sirens. He slept with Circe and Calypso, and they were both nymphs.”
Greg nods, his mouth slightly open.
“I see. So he was, like ... a nymphomaniac, right?” He chortles at his own silly joke. I shake my head in disbelief. A renowned scientist, the top lagomorphologist in the world, and a big baby: Dr. Gregory Men, ladies and gentlemen.
The solos are finished, and the band returns to the head. I recognize the melody. It’s Cotton Tail, by Duke Ellington. How appropriate.
“Look, Pi ... Penelope. Maybe there’s still something we can do.” Greg is full of fussy energy. He gulps down his Vietnamese coffee, almost choking on it.
“There is nothing we can do.”
“Don’t say that. Don’t say that.” There is something uniquely irritating in the way he coughs into his fist.
“I’m telling you.” I speak slowly, articulating each syllable. “Just forget it. Let’s talk about something else. Did you know that your namesake Gregory of Nyssa, a Christian bishop who lived in the fourth century, was probably the very first abolitionist? He explicitly wrote about the evils of slavery, calling to –”
“Pika, come on, be serious.” Greg wipes his face with a napkin.
“I am serious. Oh, listen, they are starting that tune by Antonio Carlos Jobim! By the way, he also promoted the doctrine of apocatastasis – you know, universal salvation. Gregory of Nyssa, not Jobim.”
“Pika, I know that you are nervous.” Greg puts both his elbows on the table and leans forward. “But maybe –”
“Maybe you leave us alone?!” I leap up, knocking my cup of macchiato off the table. The drummer speeds up on a slow bossa nova beat. It must be Corcovado.
“What’s your bloody problem, Doctor?!” I can’t stop screaming. “What do you care? You’re happy that we’ll be gone soon! Stupid animals, we thought that the Event actually meant something! Oooooh, but we didn’t know it was temporary! So it’s time to revert now! One century of oppressing you, one century of being best buddies – and that’s it, time to go back, live in cages, eat hay, and crap on the ground! And you should be happy that you’re getting your planet back! You should be happy! Happy! Happy!”
The fur on my face is completely drenched with tears. I’m still standing, towering over Greg. I’m small for an Oryctolagus sapiens giganticus, but I’m still more than twice the size of an average human. Greg spreads his arms and tries to hug me. I push him away. I sob. A waiter hands me a napkin. I push him away too. Then Greg climbs on a chair, puts his hands on my head and starts caressing it.
“Shh...” he says.
I wiggle my nose rapidly, greedily inhaling the odorous mélange of coffee beans and jazz musician sweat. I sob and think of my Dad, and then of my Mom, and then of myself, and then of Greg. And I sob more.