“First Love” by Bruce McAllister

I loved her so much in our little Earth town
that I said I’d go off-world to become what I
needed to become to go there, to show her
I cared about something greater than myself.
I wanted her to see the hero I could be. Isn’t
this always how young people think? I joined
up and let the corporation change me. I gasped
at first in their tanks, but learned to breathe with
the frilly gills they gave me where my lungs had
been. I learned to swim faster than any human
being ever would with flippers that had once
been hands. I wanted to tell her—to show her—
what it was like to become what they needed
me to become for the brand-new world they
needed me for. But my body would have scared
her—scared her as much as what my new voice
had become. Would she have heard my love
in the clicks and shrieks and moans? (It is difficult,
they say, to feel love when you’re afraid.) In the
end, I forgot what it felt like—what it felt like to love
a human being, when they dropped me into the seas
of that world and all I wanted was to swim and keep
swimming, to know the joy of each stroke of a handless
limb, and to feel forever the embrace of unending seas.
This is real love, I wanted to tell her, but how
to tell someone you cannot remember?

Bruce McAllister is best known for his short fiction and occasional novels, but in another life was a poet and associate editor of a respected poetry quarterly. His new poetry and his short fiction will be appearing or have appeared recently in Analog, Asimov’s, Cemetery Dance, Drabblecast, and other venues. His new collection of short stories, Stealing God and Other Stories, will be appearing from Aeon Press early in 2022. He lives happily in southern California.