Magnificent Mistakes

by Eric Bosse

Once within a time, a biologically male human whose behaviors tended toward the masculine—let's call him a man, for convenience, and accept with misgivings the connotations that accompany this designation—married a biologically female poet whose behaviors tended toward the feminine enough that we may call her a woman without doing great injustice to the whole of her—though we know full well that labeling her as such sets in motion an intricate machinery of limitations, assumptions, and oppressions. Nonetheless, in a time and at a place, a man married a poet. This was his first mistake.

Not long after the joyful wedding day and subsequent, glorious, tropical honeymoon, the man found when it came time to share basic household chores his poet bride proved unconventionally useless. While he splayed and basted a Canadian goose or swept leaves from the house's tiny porch or cleaned the toilet and scrubbed the grout between shower tiles, she would lock herself for hours in the spare bedroom with its rickety desk. At once, this inequitable distribution of labor became the man's obsession.

Yet he scrubbed until the grout glowed. And he scrubbed until the grout became nearly translucent. And he scrubbed to keep his rage in check.

One day—let's call it Easter Sunday—the man came home from mass, flush with inspiration and an urge to share a newfound spiritual optimism with his wife. But, when he looked for her, he found the spare bedroom door locked. He knocked, but the poet did not answer. He put his ear to the door and heard the clackety-clack-clack of keys as she typed.

The man's chest, which moments before had ballooned with anagogical ardor, now sagged in disappointment. His shoulders slumped. His teeth clenched.

He pulled off his necktie and changed from his Sunday suit into ragged jeans and an old, ironic T-shirt. He sliced a gleaming new toothbrush from its package and peeled the crisp paper seal from a can of scrubbing cleanser. And lo, he went to work on the tile grout.

He brushed and scrubbed for hours. Perspiration gathered in droplets on his forehead. His hair grew moist and fell over his eyes. When, at last, the grout began to wear away, a small crack appeared between two tiles, and a pinprick of light shone through the crack. The man brushed harder, and the crack became a crevice. The crevice widened to a split then a cranny, which gradually became a chink. Golden, buttery light poured through the chink and fell upon the man's fingers, causing specks of cleanser on his skin to shimmer like marble ruins on a mountain at sunrise.

The man pressed an eye to the chink, which revealed a view into the spare bedroom that served as the poet's office. This was his second mistake. Whatever mangled beasts he saw, whatever monstrous acts he beheld in that room, we cannot know—and if we were to witness what he saw, we would not and could not grasp its meanings or feel its ecstacies and horrors in the depths of our beings, for we are not him. We can only know that for several seconds the fool did not look away. And as he looked, his body changed. He grew breasts. His hips widened. And, as though God Hirself reached down and touched this man with the tip of Hir magical finger, his penis inverted and became, for a moment, a vagina. And he felt gripped by a fullness and fear unlike anything he had ever experienced. Yet, to his great relief, when he finally tore his gaze away and looked down, his body was again the body of a man.

He knew he had made mistakes, yet he felt these mistakes were also blessings—or so he came to tell himself and any unfortunate soul near enough to listen to his rants and ramblings in the years to come. Magnificent mistakes, magnificent blessings.

The man divorced the poet and launched a new life as an investment banker, which, for our purposes—and for all purposes, really—was a socially respected variety of con artist. The man's ethic was the acquisition of wealth, and almost overnight he converted his acumen into a seemingly endless fortune. Eventually the man remarried, this time to a beautiful Hungarian princess who had inherited a palace in the hills south of Budapest and a mansiĆ³n on the Costa del Sol of Spain. Sometimes, when his second wife grew busy with the arcane intricacies of royal affairs or, more often, affairs of high fashion in Paris or Milan, the man would board his yacht and order its captain to set sail for Sicily.

One morning, the man hiked to the ruins at Agrigento and stood alone on the acropolis at dawn. Surrounded by olive and almond orchards, he gazed upon the Doric columns of that ruined temple. The air nipped at his skin. It was not yet winter, but a breeze carried whiffs of snow and shuffled the yellow leaves at his feet. A dove, unaware of its symbolic significance within and across Western culture, flew over the man's head and perched in a nearby tree. The man shut his eyes and waited for the bird's soft coo.

And, when the dove sang at last, the man drew his pistol and fired.

Struck, the dove fell.

The man unfolded the bloody bird, belly up, and spread its wings in the dirt. He cut a line down the dove's soft chest and plucked out its warm, wet heart. The man told himself killing this bird and holding its heart in his palm was the only way he could fully know himself, to feel he was real and alive, a man of substance, a whole person, a being of greater account than mere words on a page.

Yet he knew better. He knew his life meant nothing in the grand scheme of God's unfathomably mysterious world, for he had learned from his mistakes. He knew nothing—not grout, nor a knife, nor the whole of the world—could blind his eyes to the horrors and delights he had witnessed in that room of one poet's own. He knew that his first marriage, as all marriages, was a benign form of slavery. And he knew that this life—for the bird, the hunter, the bullet, and the gun—offered no escape from this life. Whoever he became, wherever he might go, whatever he might do, the man would belong forever to the poet.

What, he often wondered, ever happened to her? To her body? To her words? To the worlds she made and unmade and made again?

BIO: Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes, a story collection published by Ravenna Press. His work has appeared in The Sun, Zoetrope, Wigleaf, The Collagist, Frigg, Fiddleblack, Night Train, Matter Press, and World Literature Today. He teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma.