Adam wanted the horn the moment he saw it. We’d stumbled upon an estate auction by accident and I was soon bored browsing tables of pretty, unaffordable artifacts of the deceased.
“Ty, come see this.”
Five tables away, my boyfriend held up a ram’s horn. I came over and read the descriptive notecard on the table. Horn of Plenty—Empty. That made me laugh. I’d grown up with wicker-basket shaped cornucopias containing plastic fruit—Thanksgiving kitsch. I started to put my hand inside and Adam made a joke about fisting. He always forgot himself when amused, revealing his private voice. A prim and proper woman at the next table glared at us. I smiled and beamed at her, putting my hand around Adam’s waist. I wish he didn’t flinch.
“Excuse me,” the woman said, turning away with exaggerated politeness. I loved rich, old women who weaponized etiquette.
Adam pulled me aside. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t be so open, okay? Not now.”
I nodded, but my cheeks burned. Adam had become uptight ever since the Stonewall riot two weeks ago. People in his office got a good laugh because one of the photos in the paper showed a guy who looked a lot like him. But we weren’t at Stonewall that night. Adam liked staying indoors.
“Forget it,” he said. “Where are we going to put the horn? Maybe the coffee table?”
“I’ll be damned.”
“You’d prefer the dresser?”
“You really mean to buy it? For God’s sakes, why?”
He grinned. “It’s symbolic, Ty. We’ve been butting heads lately. Well—a ram’s horn. Get it?”
I rolled my eyes and went off to look at some of the rare books up for auction. Butting heads? Hardly. We were both twenty-six and had been together for almost a year. In all that time the only real tension between us involved his work. Adam was up for a junior vice president’s position at Alcee Bucher & Sons, a major financial firm in Manhattan. Alcee Bucher was long dead, of course, but his Sons (and Grandsons) were numerous. It said a lot about Adam that he could contend for such a powerful position against more connected candidates. But Alcee Bucher III, the company’s president, seemed to love Adam more than his own children.
Just as long as the guy in the newspaper photo only looked like him.
He’d made it clear there’d be necessary deceptions and compromises in our relationship for him to get the job. For one thing, he’d have to start hosting certain affairs. I thought it was a strange term to use and he wouldn’t describe them. All I knew was he’d hosted six affairs so far and they all involved us taking down certain questionable art and hiding it under the bed. I was pretty much shoved under the mattress too. I’d met Adam a few months after coming to New York, having run away from Indiana University with a Bachelors degree in English. Achieving the diploma had somehow made me crazy enough to think my parents would accept me when I told them I was gay. The pain of their rejection made me vow to never again hide behind a lie. But I did it for Adam.
When it came time to bid on the horn, Adam seemed astonished no one wanted it. He would have got it on the third bid at $10, but I got mischievous and put in one of my own to raise the cost to $15. It was his turn to roll his eyes as I smirked. His competitiveness wouldn’t allow me to outbid him. He offered $16 and won his prize.
“So much for a nice steak dinner this week,” I said as we left. He had the horn tucked under his arm. It looked absurd, as if he’d just stalked the beast and killed it in Queens.
“We could have had ribeyes if some asshole hadn’t tried to outbid me on this bad boy.”
“Speaking of bad boy—”
“Speaking of asshole.”
I laughed. “So where is this bad boy going to sit?”
“Relax,” he said. “I’m taking it to my office.”
“You’re really cranking up the butch, aren’t you?”
“I’m just trying to get in better with Rodney.”
“Which Bucher is he?”
“Alcee the Third’s younger brother. He’s not as sold on me like Alcee is.”
“The ram’s horn is supposed to help with that?”
“It might as a gift. He likes big game hunting. Last year he killed a lion on safari.”
“Rodney sounds like a real dick.”
“The year before that he killed an elephant.”
“Rodney Bucher two, Africa nothing,” I said.
When we got home, I suggested he clean the horn if he really meant to give it as a gift. The gnarled, jaundiced surface reminded me of an old woman’s toenails. Adam went to do just that and I heard water running in the tub. A minute later, the whole room shook, knocking me down.
“Adam, I think it’s an earthquake!”
The tremor subsided. Adam shouted and I pushed myself up, convinced he’d been hurt. I found him on his knees with a strange wad of decrepit fabric in his right hand.
The ram’s horn was on the bathroom floor with smoke coming out of it.
“Oh my God, is it on fire? How can it be on fire?”
I took the towel of the rack, intending to soak it. But the sight of the smoke froze me. It was thick and odorless. It also had a weird cohesiveness that made a shape like a man.
Adam stared at the smoke with a fascinated gaze. Suddenly he nodded and said, “Oh, I do—I do understand.”
“Understand what, Adam?”
He laughed his natural, unguarded laugh.
“There are things you can do and things you can’t. Yes, I do understand the limitations. This is amazing.”
I tried to pass my hand through the smoke and met a force that flung me into the living room.
“What the hell?”
I watched Adam pick up the horn and hold it like some deformed, rugose infant. The smoke receded back into its hollows. Looking up at him I noticed a wad of very old, soiled cloth in his right hand.
“It was inside the horn. I’d started scrubbing and found this obstruction about halfway in. So I pulled at it.”
“You saw for yourself, Ty.”
“I don’t know what I saw. Smoke? Fog?”
I blinked. “A genie? As in I Dream of?”
“Not like that. It’s masculine. I sensed this genie is a male.”
“What the hell do you mean you sensed it?”
Adam shook his head. Then he looked at the old cloth and flung it aside with a look of revulsion.
I immediately picked it up. “I think you should put it back.”
“This is getting too weird. You’re telling me a fucking genie—”
“It has a name that I can’t pronounce. But I command it all the same.”
I stepped back, afraid of the glassy look in his eyes. I called it his I am the king daze, best summoned by a pampering back rub and blowjob after a long day of politics and ingratiation. I thought I alone could make him feel like that.
I demanded to see the horn. At first he refused. Then, smiling, he said, “Sure. It won’t answer to you anyway.”
“What won’t? The genie?”
“But it answers to you?”
“I’m its master. The genie told me it’s bound to the horn’s owner.”
This was the most ridiculous, absurd thing I’d ever heard. He had to be pranking me. Maybe he lit a smoke bomb or a cigarette or an incense stick, shoved it up the horn, and then stood back while the genie appeared.
But how do you fake the room shaking?
I turned the horn upside down and shook it.
“Can I see it again?”
Asking him made me feel like I was twelve years old, realizing my sexual desires and preying on the curiosity of friends. Can I see it?
Adam took the horn from me and closed his eyes.
“Don’t you have to rub it or something first?”
He ignored my sarcasm. I crossed my arms at the chest but didn’t hold the pose long. The first sight of smoke sent me running to the door. From there I watched Adam engage in some type of communion. He talked to the smoke for more than an hour before it flowed back into the horn.
“The genie’s such a good listener,” he said. “I feel like I can tell it anything.”
“You can tell me anything, too.”
“I know, Ty.”
He tucked the horn under his right arm and went into our bedroom. I followed. He put the horn on our dresser and began to undress.
“Long day. I want to take a nap.”
“Adam, I don’t want that thing in the room with us.”
“We don’t know anything about it!”
“We know the genie obeys me.”
“Because the genie told me.”
“And you trust it?”
Adam grinned as if nothing at all could be wrong. He said, “Ty, you’re just going to have to get used to the fact that we’re a threesome now.”
He rolled back the comforter and got into bed. I gave the horn a hateful glare and went straight to the sofa.
But I relented when I saw Adam’s mind was set. He wouldn’t even relent and put the horn in the closet when we had sex. I wondered if the sounds we made echoed inside the horn. I wondered if the genie experienced jealousy.
As I began to accept its existence, I tried to ensure that Adam saw the genie as a boon to both of us.
“Let’s wish for ten million dollars,” I’d tease at breakfast.
“Let’s wish for eternal life,” I’d suggest at lunch.
“Let’s wish for Nixon’s death,” I’d beg at dinner.
Adam laughed the first time. Afterwards he became very serious and said the genie wasn’t like the ones in cartoons and movies. “There’s things it can do and things that it can’t.” He was never specific. All I got out of him was the genie didn’t haven’t a three-wish limit and didn’t answer to a code of ethics or the Ten Commandments or the Three Laws of Robotics.
“Then what can it do for us?”
“Help us get everything we want, if we’re smart about it and work hard.”
“We were doing that just fine before the genie showed up. Let’s just get rid of it and be ourselves again.”
“It can help in other ways. You’re always talking about writing. Wouldn’t you like to be a successful novelist?”
I stared at him. “Sure.”
“Are you saying the genie can enhance my writing ability?”
Outwardly, I found little evidence of the genie’s miraculous powers. Adam was working harder than ever. Soon he was holding affairs every Saturday. I spent one whole weekend in a crappy motel because an affair went into Sunday afternoon. When I rebelled and returned without permission, deciding I didn’t care what I walked in on, I found the apartment empty.
Then I heard a long, erotic sigh coming from the bathroom. The door was open and I saw him.
“Oh my God.”
Adam sat on the toilet, pants and underwear around his ankles. He was slouched back on the commode and had the goddamn horn pressed over his crotch. His glassy eyes could have been stolen off a doll. I snapped my fingers at him.
His body went rigid and his calves flexed and tensed.
“That was the best orgasm I’ve ever had.”
“You fucking son of a bitch.” I slapped the horn out of his hands.
Adam blinked as if coming out of a trance. He turned his red, sweaty face up to me. “Ty, you don’t understand.”
“What’s it take for me to have sex with you now? Do I have to call you master?”
He stood up, groping for his underwear and pants. “You don’t get the pressure I’m under from work. You weren’t here and I just needed some relief.”
“Glad the genie’s actually good for something.”
“It’s good for a lot of things. You’ll see.”
“So is it going to make you the Vice President any time soon?”
“No, it can’t operate like that.”
“Then is it going to convince Rodney and Alcee to give you the position?”
Adam laughed. “The genie doesn’t do mind control.”
My rage exploded. I hit him. I’d never hit anyone in my life. To my greater shock, Adam swung back. We wrestled on the floor. Somewhere along the way the fight became sex. It was raw and crude, an exorcism of simmering grudges.
Afterwards I fell into a deep sleep haunted by strange dreams of caterpillars turning into butterflies and tadpoles becoming frogs.
When I woke, Adam was sucking on my nipples. My back arched from the electricity of it, surprising me because my nipples had never been very sensitive. I moaned, one hand sweeping up the broad expanse of his smooth back, the other automatically reaching down to stroke my cock.
My fingers closed around empty space.
Adam’s face assumed an expression of dead certainty and control. Behind him, the ram’s horn was back on the dresser. I caught the last trace of receding smoke.
I pushed him off and rolled out of bed. I felt the odd weight of my chest before I looked down to discover my new breasts.
“What’s happened to me?” I screamed at him.
My torso was as smooth as velvet. I felt my face and found my stubble was gone, absent like my penis. My pubic hair was there, the same dark color but finer, silkier. I dug into it as if my penis hid within. Then I saw the image of myself in the dresser mirror.
Adam tried to console me as I wedged myself into a corner and sank to the floor. I was so fragile. I’d never been muscular, but I was lean and tone. My new body was softer, rounder.
“It’s okay, Ty.”
“You did this to me! You had it do this to me!”
Hearing the feminine pitch of my voice broke me. I’d never had to be like Adam, making my voice deeper or imitating his ideal of masculinity. But my old voice was gone too. I sounded like Marilyn Monroe. I began to weep.
“It had to be done. Even Alcee has asked.”
“Why a guy like me doesn’t have a girlfriend. He’s a very formal and private man. He wouldn’t ask that question on his own. So it must be Rodney whispering in his ear. It’s because we messed up. We started being too open. We forgot to hide those photographs before the last affair I hosted.”
“The von Gloeden prints?”
“That’s right. Imagine trying to explain those. I’m not a good enough liar.”
“Rodney noticed them. He obviously said something to Alcee.”
“If you had any pride, you’d leave that company.”
“Oh? That wasn’t your attitude before.”
I bit the knuckle of my right index finger, on the verge of sobbing again. “Change me back. Please, Adam. Have the genie change me back.”
“I’m afraid that won’t be happening.”
“Are you saying it can’t?”
“Oh, it can. I just don’t want it to.”
I curled up into an even tighter ball. “You can’t keep me like this. It’s rape. It’s imprisonment! I’m a man, Adam!”
“But you’re gay.”
“What the hell does that have to do with anything?”
“Your desire is for men—for me. You can still love me. I’m still going to be having sex with you.”
“But you’re gay, too!”
“That’s right. In a way I’m the one who’s got the real hardship now.”
I sprung up and launched myself at him. For a second I felt powerful, but that was an illusion. I was much easier for him to handle now. Adam subdued me and then he held me in his arms. I was facing the dresser and the ram’s horn and all I could think of was shattering it.
In the weeks that followed, Adam proved determined to make me accept my new life. “You can adjust to anything,” he said, as if offering me support while I battled a terminal disease. I didn’t want to surrender but part of me wished the genie had just transformed everything, including my memories, and rendered me a woman entirely. It seemed like it would be less painful to make me think I’d always been a woman. But those deeper alterations apparently exceeded the genie’s power. Memory was metaphysics; the genie trafficked in biology.
Adam’s plan unfolded according to his will. I became his trophy girlfriend. I was hot—the genie crafted me very well. When we walked the streets, men ate me alive with their stares and gave him nods of deepest respect. He often kept a hand on my ass wherever we were. I began to realize that all his life he had wanted this, a way to be gay and straight at the same time. Adam began hosting affairs many times a week and they now included me. I was introduced to unimaginable depravity. I was treated to sex shows and drugs, hookers eating each other out atop our coffee table. Rodney Bucher, a man in his late sixties, ruled over and orchestrated these scenes. Sometimes there were over twenty perverts crammed into our apartment. Adam kept me on prominent display, like the juiciest apple on the tree. Disgusted as I was by what I had to watch, I thought at least my relationship with Adam would protect me.
But Rodney Bucher would brook no forbidden fruit.
The night came when Adam finally won the Vice Presidency. The affair had only one guest.
“Tyra,” Adam said, turning to me, “why don’t you show Rodney how much we appreciate his friendship? I think we’ve made him wait far too long.”
Rodney sat on the sofa wearing a three-piece suit. But the coat, the vest and the shirt were unbuttoned and spread open, revealing a torso covered in slick gray hair. Adam shoved me forward and told me to dance. He forced me through the motions, and as non-erotic as my movements were, Rodney got hard in moments. Then he snapped his fingers and pointed to the bedroom.
“Of course,” Adam said, leading me. My own right arm had become my leash.
Rodney left once he finished, stopping only to congratulate Adam on his new position in the company. I got up and staggered into the living room. Adam was there, clutching the goddamn horn to his chest. He reminded me of a lonely, nervous man stroking his old pet cat.
I was covered in Rodney’s sweat. Could I get pregnant? It wasn’t a question I’d ever dreamed of asking.
“I’m sorry, Ty. I’m so sorry. I’ll have you changed back soon.”
I stared at him.
“Come on,” Adam continued. “You’ll like a warm bath.”
He stepped past me. Moments later that I heard water filling the tub. He’d call for me soon enough, and if I didn’t come he’d haul me in kicking and crying. I imagined myself getting into the tub, becoming pliant and distant while Adam’s hands washed me inside and out. My emptiness had never felt so oppressive, so dominating. I sniffled and walked to the bathroom door. Adam was on his knees and bent over the tub, one hand sloshing water back and forth, the other adjusting the temperature. Trying to get it just right. The son of a bitch was even humming to himself. The ram’s horn was on the toilet seat behind him.
The tub was already half-full. Adam wouldn’t run the water much longer. I leaned forward and took the horn and raised it high over my head. I didn’t hesitate. The first strike merely propelled him forward, stunned. But I was prepared for this. I hit him twice more before he could successfully recover, making sure to supplement my lack of strength by aiming at his softest spot—right where the neck joined the head. He slumped over the side of the tub. It didn’t require a man’s strength to push his unconscious head under the water and hold it there.
I knew he was dead as soon as the tremor started. I fell to the floor. The genie was stirring, reacting to its master’s demise.
Smoke issued from the horn. Was I now the genie’s master? Or did it mean to avenge Adam’s death? I dared not wait. I couldn’t flee. I put one hand against the opening but the smoke continued to seep through. I thought of just one thing to do. I remembered the night I’d caught Adam with the ram’s horn pressed over his genitals. I spread my legs and jammed the cornucopia’s opening against my vagina. The smoke rushed up into me and I closed my legs, locking my ankles together and rolling on the ground in the worst agony I’d ever experienced. There seemed to be an earthquake happening in my guts. The genie tried to force my legs apart but I resisted. I felt it slowly occupying my muscle and bones, my heart, my bloodstream. I thought if I opened my mouth the genie would escape from me like misty breath on a cold day.
But then the pain subsided, leaving me warm and suffused with energy. When I at last dared to stand, I experienced my first moment of gratitude for the change Adam had brought to me. I was glad to be a woman, glad to have a power I never could have experienced as a man. I wouldn't be changing back. The ram’s horn was empty now and I pitched it into the trash.
Adam was right when he said you really could adjust to almost anything, no matter how awful and terrible, how violent, how base. Rape, imprisonment, alteration—one endured. You lived in the long years of acceptance and resignation that followed, the long years of bottling it all up inside and the long years of feeling bottled up. The genie had the wisdom to accept this. It was already getting accustomed to its new home and service. Despite its vast powers, subservience was its true nature.
And Adam had been right about another thing.
The genie was a male.