Would You Rather

A Work of Fiction

By Heather Elmtree

Toby-Ann reapplied her cheap jelly lip gloss every minute. She was unhappy as usual. Her husband Dennis trudged alongside her, huffing and keeping his head down with his hands in his pockets as his long legs carried him. Behind them, their daughter, Ingrid, had her arm around her boyfriend, Kevin. They were two liberal arts grads that hadn’t learned the tact of curbing PDA. The four traversed blocks whose sidewalks hadn’t been cleaned since 1995, curbs above the rain gutters falling off in chunks. They passed tattoo parlors and lively Mexican restaurants where bare-midriffed waitresses served 10-ounce margaritas.

“I’m going to be sick, unicorn,” Kevin said to Ingrid, complaining about the suspicious pad thai churning in his stomach. He folded his arms across his layer of fat; he was wearing two shirts.

“Oh be quiet,” said Ingrid. The four came to a crosswalk, where they tried to look away from a man with the sign draped over his chest advertising a loan rate. “No thanks,” Dennis had the guts to say. Toby-Ann turned around and said, ignoring Kevin,“Ingrid, your father and I have to go to the bank and cash a check.” Ingrid gestured toward the Chase diagonally across the street. Kevin felt alienated, because he had been raised with Wells Fargo.

“Go ahead,” said Ingrid.

“We’ll be about 15 minutes, so meet us then,” said Toby-Ann.

“Unless you wanna just come with her and stand there,” said Dennis.

Ingrid folded her arms.“Nah, we can pop in one of these shops.”

Toby-Ann dashed across the four-way intersection with a honk or two firing off. Dennis sighed and followed her, hands still in pockets.

“Where do you wanna pop in?” said Ingrid.

“I don’t know. The doctor,” said Kevin, fiddling with the earring in his right ear.

“So funny,” said Ingrid. They began walking away from the bank. Within two blocks, they passed a lingerie shop. It was called “LoveCat Intimates and Gifts,” and the window displayed mannequins with Bettie Page hairdos and dominatrix outfits. The “open” sign was blinking.

“Let’s go in here,” she said.

“We still need to get one of those pigtail butt plugs,” said Kevin.

The door opened with a bell jingle, and the shop smelled like cherry air freshener. The two wandered through the store until they realized it was gimmicky. There were Halloween-appropriate corsets in plastic bags, and pleather whips hung on metal wall grids. There was a selection of vibrating dildos, each advertising the genitalia’s nationality. A man behind the counter knitted sparkly pink yarn.

Ingrid and Kevin looked at the DVDs. The girls on the home-printed covers looked photoshopped, not that they hadn’t already been implanted with bolt-ons. As Kevin continued to gape at the nipple pics and Ingrid went to another part of the store, looking for that butt plug, the man said from the counter in a French accent, “Is there anything you’d like to look at in my viewing room?”

“Yeah, I think so,” said Kevin.

“All right then,” said the clerk, lifting a ring of keys next to the scratched-up Dell desktop screen. The clerk, who had a quiet voice and a handlebar mustache, was thin as a pencil and walked with straight posture, accentuating the swing of his hips and holding up his limp wrists. He pushed open a countergate and led Kevin to a hallway in the back while Ingrid followed. The back hallway was painted a creamy light purple and smelled like incense mixed with garbage. The man unlocked a sliding door.

“Enjoy,” he said, making eye contact with both of them for just a second too long.

The viewing room had a torn red pleather bench with cotton seeping out. The TV was a flat screen, and the DVD player looked a decade old. Kevin showed Ingrid the DVD he had selected; it was called “Tied Up Lesbians.” The two popped it in and began watching with their arms around each others’ shoulders. A few minutes into the video, when the two were starting to feel the initial brushes of arousal, the door slid open a bit, and into shadows of the doorjamb smoothly slid the clerk’s pointy profile.

“Hello you two,” he said, peering at them, “How are you enjoying the movie?” Ingrid pouted; Kevin quivered and tried to hide his penis stiffening through his pants.

“It’s fine,” said Ingrid, furrowing her eyebrows. A tied-up lesbian moaned on the screen.

“I hope I’m not interrupting you, but I thought I’d bring you another movie I think you’d like.” He tiptoed over, placed it on top of the DVD player, and left, sliding the door shut as it bumped over a pebble on its track.

“Do we have enough time to check this one out?” said Ingrid.

“This one kind of sucks,” said Kevin. “I have 15 just like it on my computer.” He paused. “That was kind of weird, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah, it was,” said Ingrid, getting up and looking at the new DVD. Ingrid was wearing lounge clothes, and she was slightly overweight. She had mouse-brown hair, fraying with strains of blue from last month. She kept herself together with a cheap pearl necklace with a red dragon gem on the end of it. She turned around and presented the new DVD to her boyfriend; it was called “Daddy Takes Teenage Daughter.”

“Not my thing,” said Kevin.

“Why not give it a shot, though?” asked Ingrid. “You can have a story to tell.”

“You’ve got a point,” said Kevin. Ingrid put the video in and she sat back down. The set reminded both Ingrid and Kevin of the set in Full House, although neither expressed this notion aloud. The characters were a girl who could have been anywhere between the ages of 14 and 27. The daddy was hairy and 40.

In the video, the daddy lifted up the daughter’s skirt and she cried the words “so wrong.” There was a boom too loud to be coming from the cheap speakers under the TV.

Kevin was in a bank. He felt slimmer, but lighter-headed. He looked beside him, and Ingrid’s mom was filling out paperwork at a marble countertop. Meanwhile, Dennis found himself in a purple room with porn on a screen, squished next to his daughter with a third man on the other side of the room.

“Where the hell am I?” he said. He rose to his feet and examined his surroundings. The room had no door, just a man with a cape, a floppy hat and a cane, smoothly leaning against the wall with a prim smirk.

“Kevin? What the hell is happening?” panicked Ingrid, also realizing the door to the room had vanished.

Dennis looked down in horror at a Dr. Who shirt and light blue converse.

“It’s me. It’s your dad. I’ve become Kevin,” he said, losing his mind in the black linoleum floor. Dennis in Kevin’s body faced the clerk. “Let us out, will you?” he said.

The sex shop owner twirled his mustache and said, “They will come.”

Soon, the clerk walked through the wall and, with only his thumb and forefinger, dragged in Toby-Ann and Kevin in Dennis’s body. He guided the four to the bench with his white-gloved hands.

“This seems unexpected,” he said, “Dad in boyfriend’s body, boyfriend in dad’s body. But you can reverse it. You, with the blue hair,” he said, pointing a long, bony finger.

“Ingrid,” she corrected without thinking.

“Have sex with one of them, and they’ll switch back. Which one you pick is up to you. And don’t try to threaten me, or that will never happen!” He cackled mercilessly.

“Who the hell are you, anyway?” asked Dennis in Kevin’s body.

The clerk sunk his head, putting both hands on his cane. “I used to be a great man. A powerful man in the spirit world. But I don’t talk about that much anymore.”

After the clerk made the door reappear, the four took the Jeep to the parents’ house, Toby-Ann driving. Ingrid nor Kevin dared mention being dropped at their crummy apartment. Toby-Ann and Dennis’s adobe-style house had Native American arrows and dream catchers hanging on the outdoor walls. The four filed into the house and Toby-Ann switched on the living room lights; the living room was decorated with tacky Pier 1 furniture, and the scenterpiece was a wooden pelican statue. On the mantle were a few glass sculptures and Shiva statues from Dennis’s days as a hitchhiker. They sat down on the red corduroy couches, by the oak coffee table with a glass top, covered with old magazines. “Corduroy couches when we get home” had been the only sentence spoken during the car ride, courtesy of Toby-Ann.

“Well,” said Ingrid, “I’ll start. I’m terrified.”

Toby-Ann made a moaning sound, head of black frizzy hair nestled in her thin, wrinkly hands.

“Well, it seems we have two choices here,” said Dennis in Kevin’s body. “One ,you get your boyfriend’s body, but it’s your dad. In the other, you slam me, but it’s Kevin underneath. What’ll it be, huh?”

“Ugh,” said Ingrid. “I guess if I had sex with Kevin’s body, but with my dad in the body, I could just knock him out with some sleeping pills. Then it would be Kevin’s body only.”

“Would that even change it back?” said Dennis in Kevin’s body. “It’s almost gaming the system.”

“Well, thanks for wanting to rape me!” said Kevin in Dennis’s body. “Now I know how that one girl who carried her mattress around feels! I actually do!”

“It’s not rape man, it’s not even your body anymore,” said Dennis in Kevin’s body, with a hint of pride.

“Come on,” said Kevin in Dennis’s body, turning to Ingrid, “Just have sex with me and wear a blindfold.”

“You can’t blind my nerves, dumbass. I’d feel it,” said Ingrid.

“For Christsakes, Kevin! She’d feel the penis!” said Dennis in Kevin’s body.

“We could try numbing cream?” said Kevin in Dennis’s body. “Yaniv—you know, the guy who did my second tattoo—gave some to me.”

“I don’t even know why we have to make the decision today,” said Dennis in Kevin’s body. “Can’t we just hang out, maybe try out the other body? Just chill out. Hell, it feels good to be young again.”

“Shut the fuck up Kevin, uh, dad,” said Ingrid.

Toby-Ann stopped sobbing and flicked her lighter a few times until flame caught on a Marlboro.

Toby-Ann slept in her room. Ingrid slept in her childhood room, which was now a junk room filled with skateboards and dream catchers. Kevin in Dennis’s body slept on the couch, and Dennis in Kevin’s body slept in the hammock in the backyard.

The next morning, Toby-Ann lay in bed for several hours, looking at the ceiling. She finally lifted her head and turned on a recording of “Toddlers & Tiaras.” After a few episodes, her stomach was growling, so she left her room and tiptoed her size six feet along the freezing ceramic tiles to fry herself an egg. What she found on the fridge whiteboard made her weep again.

Don’t look for me, I’m gone now. I’ve gotten a new body, a new start so I can live this life over again. You weren’t a good use of my time.

Dennis’s blown glass sculptures had vanished off of the mantle. Toby-Ann’s sobs woke up Kevin in Dennis’s body, sleeping on the corduroy couch in the next room. He rolled from facing inside the couch to facing the rest of the living room, tangling the wool blanket, and he rubbed his eyes. Thirty minutes later, he and Ingrid coalesced and read the fridge note, bending over with their hands on their locked knees.

“He’s gone,” said Kevin in Dennis’s body.

“Only one way to get him back,” said Ingrid, gulping.

Kevin in Dennis’s body took the rooster-patterned dish towel and wrapped it around Ingrid’s head. It wouldn’t stretch all the way around, so he ran to the kitchen drawer and got some packing tape. Ingrid lowered herself to the cold tile floor of the bathroom and slid off her pajama bottoms like she would for a doctor. She heard her dad’s voice grunt, and then came the hips and his cold, sinking penis. The numbing cream didn’t do much—in fact, it served as lubricant, making the whole act sleeker. Kevin in Dennis’s body thrusted; he was uncomfortable, but also enthralled with his new genitalia. A bigger penis made sex so much better.

“Are you back yet,” mumbled Ingrid, who couldn’t take it.

“No,” said Kevin in Dennis’s body. “I might have to go all the way and finish.” Ingrid cried. She vomited, too, choking up bits of her breakfast Hot Pocket onto her fading red pajama shirt. Kevin in Dennis’s body looked away to the paisley shower curtain and conjured his usual stupid fantasy of having sex on a roller coaster. He pumped, and pumped, and came.

“SHIT! I’M BACK, BABY!” cried Dennis, now controlling his own body with his shrinking penis stuck in his daughter. Ingrid’s whole body collapsed upon itself, moving away from the penis as a cobweb of semen stretched between the two. Ingrid hit her head on the toilet, catatonic. And Kevin felt the weight of his own pudgy body. He was in a neon-laden bar, dragging on a hashish cigarette, sitting across from a woman who looked like she’d had ten facelifts.