THE BRIDGE

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The trek seemed interminable. Sarah had paid good money for this, and she thought it might improve her stamina and orienteering. Fat chance, she fumed to herself. It showed her usual lack of self-knowledge. Why struggle along in heavy boots and unbecoming shorts, when what she really wanted was a sybaritic bath and a glimpse of the far pavilions? And sherbert foaming in a tall glass.

She had been provided with a map for each day’s walk, and the firm carried her luggage on to the next hotel. But Sarah was not used to being alone: to seeing the eagles (or were they vultures?) wheeling overhead, to hearing the canyons echoing to the sound of water. It was usually easy to follow the path, as it was marked with a red dot from time to time. But somehow she had missed it, and as the afternoon drew on, she grew anxious. She saw that a rope bridge had been slung across a chasm ahead of her, and as there was a mention of a bridge in the instructions, she had no choice but to set foot on it.

The rope bridge swayed though, and she could not bear to look down: it was a thousand-foot drop. There were bears in the forest below, wolves maybe, all ready to gnash their teeth at her. Wild men too perhaps, with clubs and halitosis. Sarah dropped to her knees in fear, and crawled across an inch at a time. Finally she got to the other side: the rock seemed to be a great face, and she went in through its mouth. But what would she find on the other side?

Not much at first. It was sunny enough, and everything smelled wonderful. She followed the one road into a small town. It had a hotel, and when she went in, she was clearly expected: the person on the desk smiled and gave her a key, and sure enough when she went in, her case had been deposited on the bed. She showered, changed and went out. And that was when things started to get really challenging.

For a start, all the animals could talk. One cat sauntered up and commented on her shoes: “don’t you know that wedges are out of fashion this year?” A very well-groomed dog looked her up and down, and offered her his leather lead: “”that frock needs a belt.” Even the horses wanted to hold a conversation, but warned her that they were too tired at present to take her for a ride. And that was not all. The plants spoke too, and offered their opinions on the weather forecast. But oddest of all were the human inhabitants. They were not what Sarah expected at all. They seemed of no fixed gender. They all had longish hair, and soft breasts which swung nicely in their loose shirts, but they had muscular arms and legs, and one of them wore trousers so tight that it was clear to see that he or she was spectacularly well hung. Had she suddenly stumbled into Hermaphrodite City?

Over dinner at the hotel, Sarah managed to get into conversation with the person who served the food. They asked how she was enjoying her stay, and hesitantly she said that the gender arrangements were not what she was used to. “Ah” said the waiter, in a voice midway between soprano and baritone “we don’t bother with that old stuff. We grow what we need when the situation demands it. I can suckle, I can ejaculate. It all depends.” Sarah asked whether such indeterminacy was practised in social life as well: “of course! I feel like waiting at table at the moment. But in a few weeks I might work on a farm. Or complete my PhD on astrophysics.”

This was all very unsettling. After the meal, Sarah and the waiter talked deep into the night. One thing led to another and she ended up inviting him or her into her room. The linen sheets on her bed smelled of roses. But not just any roses: the ones from her grandmother’s garden. All of a sudden she felt young again. That night was very surprising. For the first time in her life, she did not know who had what. But it felt wonderful.

Sarah was alone when she awoke- her lover had left a note to say that he had gone to cut some hay. She got out of bed and looked in the long mirror. There were her breasts, happy as ever. But there, down below, where a cleft had been, was a penis, stirring in the morning light. Well, well, she thought. There is such a thing as Morning Glory. And what should she do with the day? Help with the harvest? Read a book? Curry-comb the horses while they had a good chat together? Whatever she decided, she knew it would be pleasurable. And there was plenty of time. She wouldn’t be going anywhere else. She’d be staying here indefinitely. Forever, in fact.