Art by Judith Simonian
The Radiologist and the Spider/man
In his sleep, a lonely radiologist accidentally bites into a spider crawling through his open mouth. He wakes up and groggily spits it out before turning to his other side to continue sleeping. The next morning, he opens his eyes to a man sleeping naked in his bed. “Now, wait a minute,” he says, sitting up, “what are you doing in my bed?” The stranger also sits up. “I was walking on your face last night, and you bit me,” he says, showing the radiologist the teeth marks on his back. “I was a spider, and now I’ve turned into a man.” “It doesn’t make sense,” says the radiologist. “It should be the other way around.” “Hey, don’t look at me,” says the spider/man, “you’re the radioactive one.” “I knew that job of mine was going to cause me problems someday,” says the radiologist. The spider/man gets out of the bed and looks at his naked body in the mirror. “It’s so weird, not having four more limbs nor six more eyes,” he says. “Now, how the hell am I going to be able to weave a web?” He looks genuinely sad to the radiologist. The radiologist gets out of his bed, goes to his wardrobe, and gives the spider/man some clothes to wear. As his strange guest thanks him for his gesture and wears the clothes, the radiologist decides to quit his job. “But what will you do with the rest of your life? Your job is the only thing you know how to do,” says the spider/man, his eyes on his fully clothed reflection in the mirror. “I’ll go on long walks on the beach. Read books. Eat good food, not those tasteless instant meals that you have to heat in the microwave. Maybe even fall in love. I have been so lonely,” the radiologist replies. He looks genuinely sad to the spider/man. “Mind if I tag along?” asks the spider/man. “Lacking my limbs and silk, I have nowhere to go.” “Sure,” says the radiologist, “I owe you one for turning you into the most miserable creature in the world.” Thus, the spider/man stays, and they go on walks together in the green Spring. They go swimming in the yellow Summer. They read good books and ride bicycles in the gold-copper Autumn. In Winter, the radiologist has already become a great cook and a wine connoisseur, and the spider/man takes up knitting sweaters.
The man who draws and dyes the world with colors each morning before everyone wakes up decides to go on a strike. He draws the roads, and trees, and birds, and buildings, and the sky, and other things in watercolor one morning, leaving every detail fuzzy and hard to comprehend. He complains to me as we sit at a table at a watercolor café during his lunch break about how he is sick and tired of drawing realistic paintings. He says he wants to try his hand in watercolor now, maybe even dabble in gouache and pastel a little bit. I bring my abstractly drawn watercolor tea to my lips as I listen, and taste the leftover, mixed-colored, bitter water the brushes had been cleaned in. Grimacing in secret, I tell him it’s his life and of course, he should have artistic freedom, instead of fulfilling the wishes of the rest of the world. Excited, he thanks me for my understanding, and quickly draws me a gift in watercolor. It’s a bouquet of flowers, but I mistake it for a hat and wear it. The man who draws and dyes the world with colors each morning before everyone wakes up tells me that they are flowers, not a hat, and it’s ridiculous to mistake one for the other. I say nothing, smelling my hat instead. The man who draws and dyes the world with colors each morning before everyone wakes up then admits that he knows he sucks at watercolor. But one can only dream. Crestfallen, he says he’ll go back to drawing and dying the world in colors in his usual, realistic fashion tomorrow. No need for more confusion. Maybe leave it one more day, I say, taking another sip from the dirty brush water whose taste starts growing on me.
You Have a Boulder Where Your Heart Used to Be
They cut my chest open. I open my eyes tied to a hospital bed, blinded by the bright, white lights. Let me go, I say. We can’t, they reply. You’re in the middle of your open-heart surgery. I see around me the doctors and nurses in their scrubs, masks, goggles, and surgical caps. My heart’s fine, I say. You have a boulder where your heart used to be, they say. All those agonies, fears, betrayals, and disappointments you’ve been collecting drenched, engorged, and calcified your heart. When we get the boulder out, your chest will be as light as a happy child’s. Your dark memories, experiences, and aches will be erased. It’s like being born anew. Panic tingles my mind. You can’t take them away from me, I say. I’m a writer. How can I write without my pain? One doctor brings the anesthetic gas mask closer to my face. We recommend you change occupations. The mask is pressed on my mouth and nose. I slip away.
I open my eyes once more, to a lightened chest. Now, nothing more than a piece of paper, a nylon bag, or an autumn leaf, I can be easily blown away. On my night table, a giant jar stands with my boulder in it. See, how big it was, the nurse says, smiling. We put it in there in case you’d like to keep it. I find my voice and ask for paper and a pen. She brings them. The pen is askew in my hand. I can’t remember how to hold it nor how to draw the letters. I’m illiterate, I say. I can’t write anymore. Alarmed, the nurse calls for the doctor. She points at my face. She’s crying, she says, afraid. How can she cry? Her heart’s right there! I touch my wet face, surprised. We’ll have to operate on your tear glands next, the scowling doctor says.
Werewolf on the Moon
A werewolf decides to go to the moon to turn the tables. He is sick and tired of transforming into a wild wolf every full moon, not to mention the blackouts and the dried blood he has to wash off from his hair once a month with the help of expensive hair products. Let’s see what happens when it can’t look down on me, he thinks, but the odds of someone making it to space, let alone going to the moon, are pretty slim. The werewolf decides to become an astronaut and sends his application to NASA. Out of some sheer dumb luck, he gets selected as one of the twelve candidates out of thousands and is taken on for training at the Johnson Space Center. There, he goes through all the necessary training and tests, and with another moon mission on the horizon, the werewolf starts to believe that it is highly likely for him to land on the moon soon—a giant leap for wolfkind. But right before the mission, the werewolf fails his medical exam. He is given a desk job instead. When he tries to object, the doctor says they can’t take the risk of him transforming into a wolf inside the space shuttle at the first sight of the moon. Would a blindfold work? No, it’s shape-shifting, something physical, his wolf genes react to it by themselves like an allergy. It’s not a psychological issue like selenophobia—the fear of the moon, so, psychotherapy and/or exposure therapy wouldn’t work, either. Crestfallen that his only ambition is taken away from him, the werewolf quits NASA. Now, he’ll never be able to stand on that heavily cratered surface and see whether the moon transforms into something else as he looks down on it.
Ecem Yucel (she/her) is an Ottawa-based Turkish writer, poet, and PhD candidate in translation studies. Her writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Salamander Magazine, Stanchion, Idle Ink, Kissing Dynamite, Autofocus, The Daily Drunk, Celestite Poetry, Selcouth Station, and more. Find her at www.ecemyucel.com or on Twitter @TheEcemYucel.
Judith Simonian has shown her work at venues that include the New Museum, NY; MoMA PS1, NY; San Francisco Museum of Art; Santa Barbara Museum of Art; and the Seibu Museum of Art, Tokyo. She is a Guggenheim Fellow and has been awarded residencies at Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Her work is in the permanent collections of Kaufman & Broad S.A., Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego; Orange County Museum of Art; Fresno Art Museum; Hammer Museum, LA; among others. Her twelve-year survey exhibition is on view at 1 GAP Gallery, Brooklyn, NY through January 9, 2023.