MOVING UP • by Justin Follin Smith

Before I became a giraffe I was a twelve-year-old girl. I had long brown hair, brown eyes, and a burgeoning mustache I shaved weekly with a disposable razor I stole from my dad. I was the type of girl my mother would call “well-intentioned”.

My transformation started after I went on Rancho Randy’s Car Safari with my uncle Jeff and cousin Shelly. My dad said Jeff was nervous about spending time with Shelly after the divorce, and if I went he’d take me for ice cream after. I felt bad for Jeff, and Shelly had always been one of my favorite cousins, but truthfully I only went for the ice cream. We saw some parrots, a few pot-bellied pigs, zebra, bison, alpacas, deer, and a camel that looked tired and had long wisps of yellow liquid coming out of its mouth. They gave us a bucket of feed and when we got to the giraffes we held it out for them to eat, but they ignored it and instead poked their giant heads through the open windows of Jeff’s jeep and started licking my face like I was the food. It was funny at first, but then it became like that time at camp when the girls in my cabin started leaving cupcakes on my bed. I couldn’t tell if I should enjoy it or if they were trying to hurt me. Eventually Jeff realized what was happening and hit one of the giraffes on the head and we drove off. He went back to the start of the safari and yelled at Rancho Randy, who gave me wet wipes to clean my face. Then we went home and my dad took me for ice cream and everything was fine.

At first I didn’t even notice I was becoming a giraffe, that’s how slow the change was. I started losing my appetite for meat first, swapping out chicken fingers and turkey jerky for bags of spinach and microwaved edamame. I began drinking less water, too, sometimes going full days without even getting thirsty. Hair started growing in new places on my body, and I would shiver uncontrollably if it got colder than 75 degrees. Acne exploded across my face, chest, and back. It felt like my body was starting to burst at the seams and I was powerless to stop it.

My parents eventually took me to the doctor, who diagnosed me with a severe case of puberty. Everyone had a good laugh at that and my parents seemed relieved. I didn’t say anything about being a giraffe.

***

My old life suited me fine, but there are things to like about this new one too. I don’t have to worry about anything other than eating and staying warm. I’ve stopped caring about what the kids at school say about me. My hair has grown thick enough that I can finally braid it. I’ve become so uncoordinated that I’ll finally be able to quit softball.

I have the most vivid dreams about running around on open plains surrounded by other giraffes. We graze on leaves and race to watering holes and whip flies with our tails. I’ve never felt so included, all of us perfectly alike.

Of course, not all my changes have been so great. I’ve started getting claustrophobic in cars and elevators. None of my clothes fit. I sleep standing up. I sweat practically all the time. My mother constantly tells me I’m acting peculiar, although that’s nothing new. I also don’t sound like I used to. Sometimes I can’t even speak. I still have thoughts and they sound normal in my mind, but when I try to say them out loud it comes out as gibberish. Like yesterday I went to tell my mother we were out of spinach, but instead I made some low grumbling sound and before she could say anything I dashed to my room.

Human life has become so painful that I’ve decided to leave home soon. It’s something I’m still trying to get comfortable with, but I can’t stay in these confined spaces anymore, fumbling with the everyday fast-moving parts. I don’t want to wake up one day and have gotten so big I can’t get out of my room. I’ve even begun leaving my windows open at night in case I suddenly sprout while I’m asleep. I’ve already developed the musk of a wild animal. My mother knows, because she’s started leaving perfume samples on my nightstand.

I’m most worried about surviving winter. Giraffes live in Africa, after all, and it snows here. I’ve spent the past weeks imploring my mother to take me shopping for the baggiest sweaters and scarves, trying to find ones with enough room to grow. I like seeing her at the mall, surrounded by the material things she loves. It lets me know that she’ll be okay.

I’ve tried writing a letter to my parents explaining what has happened, but it ends up looking like scribbles on the page. I’ll miss them, but they’ll never understand what I’m going through. One day I’ll try writing again. And when I get most lonely I’ll conjure up images of my mother, her approving smile when she pinches the backs of my thighs, singing praises of their new-found skinniness.


Justin Follin Smith is from North Carolina and lives in Los Angeles. His work has previously appeared in 7×7 and Word Riot.


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