She sat me in one of a pair of chairs in the bay window, and said she would get me a drink and some fresh clothes. Sun was breaking through the clouds. I shielded my eyes against the brighter light and immediately she reached for a cord at the right angle of the window, and used it to lower one of the blinds. Venetian blinds. I relaxed in the chair, which was made of a canvas material and gently rocked when I shifted my weight. I rested my arms on its wooden arms and my head against the cushion which hung over the top of the chair. I closed my eyes and saw the colours of space. I felt suddenly tired and wished that I would never have to open them again. Or move again. I let nebulae, comets and meteoroids drift across the interplanetary screen of my eyelids.
‘Here, take this. Careful, it’s hot.’
She gave me a lilac mug filled with a pinkish brown liquid. Bubbles gathered around the inner perimeter of the mug. The liquid had a suspiciously chemical, saccharine smell.
‘What is it?’
‘Hot chocolate. It’ll warm you up.’
I wrapped my fingers around the mug and undeniably it warmed them. I sniffed again and put the cup to my lips. They flinched on contact with the liquid, almost spilling it, but I tried again, and this time managed to draw off some of the thin-tasting liquid. The taste lingered in my mouth after I had swallowed. Not unpleasant, but the sweetish tang suggested something diluted rather than its essence. I took another sip, tracking the progress of the liquid’s heat as it descended into the internal organs of my new body.
The woman watched me as I sipped, her mouth occasionally forming into the encouraging shape of a smile. Otherwise she gave no indication that she was aware of the novelty of the sensations to me, and I might even have come to the conclusion that she was amused, as if she were watching a human child assess a food it had not been served before.
‘I used to have hot chocolate when I was a kid, after I went swimming. Still do, if I can. Nothing warms you better. I’ll go and see if I can find you something to wear.’
I cradled the cup in my human hands, enjoying its warmth. I thought I heard the woman in the next room talking. It must be to someone. And because of the pauses, on what this civilisation called a telephone, or mobile. I guessed I had better not let myself fall asleep. A plant stood between the two chairs, its leaves gleeful receptacles for the energy disseminated by the planet’s sun. I suspected hot chocolate was not the plant’s ideal choice of fluid, but that did not stop me from upending the remainder of the contents of the mug into its earth-filled pot.
Something about the way she said this string of syllables suggested to me that it was her name. Despite her faith in the warming powers of hot chocolate, I was still cold, and began to regret watering the plant with the remaining half-cup. How did human beings cope with such a thin dermatological rendering and such a raw and penetrating atmosphere? I felt sure my own species must be fur-covered.
As if in answer to my thoughts, the woman re-appeared with the clothes, and a blanket.
‘Chanelcharlenny – is that your name?’
She seemed disturbed by the question, and was slow to answer.
‘Yes, but it’s Chanel…’ – she paused – ‘… Charlenny. Chanel’s my given name. Charlenny is my surname. It’s Cornish. You can call me Chan. Here, put these on.’
She turned on her heels and left the room. I stood up unsteadily then slowly peeled off the wet suit. Momentarily I was disturbed by the anatomy of this sex of the species, but so many novel experiences were homing in on me, I determined to think about this very particular one later, and quickly put on the trousers. Of thickish material, they were short on my legs. A red t-shirt with the phrase ‘I’m a noun!’ printed across its front in white, and a grey hooded top. Black socks, pink at the heel. They must be her clothes – Chan’s – because they were a little tight-fighting, even compared with the wet suit.
I sat back down on the chair and drew the blanket over me. Through the part of the window which was not screened by the blind, I could see the beach on which I had woken up, part in sun, part-shadow, also the sweep of a bay, and three successive headlands pointing crooked, rocky fingers out to sea, accusing the same point on the horizon. Above them clouds were banked, their flat bottoms rolling beyond the final headland, its mass considerably more substantial (factoring for distance) than the nearer two. Waves lapped the beach in long, lacy frills of white. I watched them form and dissipate.
Despite myself, I returned to the state I had been in before Chan found me on the beach – the regenerative condition she would call sleep.