* Author : Kristina Ten
* Narrator : Nicola Seaton-Clark
* Host : Summer Fletcher
* Audio Producer : Peter Behravesh
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Originally published in Lightspeed.
Tend to Me
by Kristina Ten
Nora is a serial becomer. She has become many things in her life, though rarely on purpose. The first time, it just sort of happened. The second time, it was a coincidence. Now, it is a habit she cannot seem to break.
In the past, she has become a rock climber and a scuba diver, a beekeeper and a gardener and a mechanic specializing in European cars. For two months last summer, she was a stand-up comedian. Her senior year of college, she amassed New England’s largest collection of antique coins.
Nora has no interest in any of these things. She has, in fact, an acute fear of heights and depths and stages. Exhaust fumes make her sick, and she is allergic to bees.
But Nora cannot help herself: she is prone to absorbing the interests of whoever she is dating. She is caught in a pattern. She cannot get out.
“How wonderful that you two share hobbies!” say friends of the couple, whatever couple she is part of at the time.
Or: “You must never run out of things to talk about! I wish my Philip and I had so much in common.”
It is not an equal exchange, Nora knows, nor a lasting one. Do you think the rock climber asked about her interests? He did not. While they dated, she scaled sheer cliff faces in his presence, then went home to her apartment and sank weeping to the floor. She spent hours flat on her belly, clawing at the horizontal surface beneath her calloused palms. All the jargon she had learned—quickdraw, hand jam, pitch—tumbled out of her mind. Alone, she was completely vacant. The next time they saw each other, he would fill her all over again.
The same with the comedian: she pantomimed laughter for him until her cheeks ached, then went home and stared at her blank expression in the mirror, as if trying to commit it to memory.
The same with the gardener, the beekeeper. Nora is trapped in malleability. It is an uncomfortable transformation each time. She wakes up tired, eats a bowl of bland cereal, then she goes to meet her lover and she becomes.
Currently, Nora is dating an amateur acupuncturist. They met at a bar, where he told her a bad joke about why acupuncturists shouldn’t be trusted, something something something because they are a bunch of backstabbers.
He turns out to be neither of these things: a backstabber or an acupuncturist, professionally speaking. He is sincere and loyal, and he performs acupuncture only at the hobbyist level, though he hopes to get an apprenticeship soon. For now, he practices on himself often, on her less often, and most frequently on the bumpy, porous skin of grapefruits.
When Nora becomes this time, she is reclining on his living-room sectional, the amateur acupuncturist focused on the cap of her knee.
“Do you feel anything?” he asks, inserting a fourth needle experimentally. “More relaxed, maybe?”
“Sure,” she responds, feeling nothing, though maybe a slightly less dulled version of the nothing she usually feels.
Suddenly, a patch of rough, faintly green skin blooms in the space between the needles. It is thicker than the surrounding skin, and when she pokes it, it has a bit of give.
She looks up at the amateur acupuncturist. “Is that supposed to happen?”