It doesn’t feel like anything.
That’s the hardest part for people to accept, if you can believe that. The confusion is, of course, understandable. One would expect there to be some sensation associated with being turned back into a child. I can tell a lot about the person asking by the kind of feeling they think might be associated with the transformation. The people who are against the very idea of it often posit that the bones must grind, that there must be an actual heat to the melting of one’s muscles, that the quick retreat of body hair must be akin to thousands of needles sinking into softening skin.
They’re often disappointed when I tell them that the whole procedure is not only completely painless but is in fact devoid of any feeling at all. I suspect it’s because they wished to receive some confirmation of the fear they held of the concept, a fear that is typically based either in personal distaste or some fundamental opposition to an individual temporarily returning to his or her childhood.
The disappointment of those who support the idea is much harder for me to bear. These people do not, of course, express their support out loud. Even those that use Noorus – a translation from the Estonian, I explain, an attempt by the company’s brilliant if eccentric founder to pay homage to the old country – do not speak openly of their patronage. It’s still a new technology, after all, and one that can conjure up the most insidious of implications. If you had been at the hearings that took place during the legalization of the process, you would have thought that Noorus had been designed solely to enable the worst predators humanity had to offer.
Those accusations are now nothing more than a footnote in a congressional record. Thanks to a strict set of regulations – and the greasing of more than a few palms – Noorus’ services became available to any law-abiding citizen that could pony up the exorbitant session fee.
It is the cost of the thing that keeps many of these silent supporters away, though I have spoken to a few wealthy individuals who were unable to hide their clear desire to partake. You can tell by the way their imagining of the process differs from those who oppose it. Warm is a word they often use. Light. Giddy. Those that attempt to draw a comparison ask me if I know how it feels to sit in the front car of a roller coaster and crest a hill at top speed.
I do, I say with a patient smile. But it’s not like that, I’m afraid. It’s not like anything.
The response is usually the same no matter what side of the spectrum the person falls on. They’ll nod and fall silent for a second, perhaps clearing their throat or taking a sip from their drink. This is time they need to work up the necessary confidence to ask the question that inevitably follows.
So, they’ll say. Any good stories?
I often rebuff these requests with practiced poise. I tell the questioner that I’m merely a technician and that I don’t get to see what goes on beyond closed doors. There are matters of privacy at stake, after all; our average customer would be mortified if their temporary regressions were made public, to say nothing of how said customer behaved while enjoying our service. The matter is often closed by me grinning and saying that our clean-up crew is very well paid for a very good reason.
Usually that gets a polite laugh, which the questioner and I will use to move on to another topic.
The truth, however, is that I do have a story.
It’s not one that I tell often. Even if I’m around people I trust, I typically need to be at least halfway through a joint before my tongue will be sufficiently loosened. Telling it the first time was a mistake, as it’s now requested of me whenever I’m in the company of the lucky few who were there for the original recounting. Luckily, I’m smart enough to hold a hard line, or at least enough to never get so high that I buckle under peer pressure. No, I’ll say, you cannot bring your friend over to hear the story. I don’t care how long you’ve known her. The story stays in this circle. If I hear a whiff of it from anyone but you guys, I’m never going to tell it again.
They protest, of course. They say that the weed has made me paranoid. But they always fall in line.
So. Please do not think I am being arrogant when I say that you are lucky to hear this.
They were a man and a woman. It is often a man and a woman, for reasons you can probably guess.
He was middle-aged, handsome and healthy. His body was that of a man who worked out simply for maintenance’s sake, not because he had any need or desire to show off.
She was young, confident and beautiful. The sort of woman who knew that she could coast on her looks but refused to allow herself to be so basely defined.
These dynamics were clear to me from the outset of the pre-screening interview, if only because I had already seen them so often. Our clients are typically successful men, as very few other people have both the means and the implied societal approval to explore a fantasy this outrageous. The nervousness of this particular man was, likewise, not at all unusual. One of the great satisfactions of my job is getting to ask established, respected individuals why they want to be turned into children. If I could live on the stammers and blushes and awkward laughter I get in response, I wouldn’t even take a salary.
The woman, though. She was unusual from the start. When a wife, girlfriend or mistress is brought along for the session, their embarrassment often approaches that of their partner. Though most try to rise above the strangeness of the whole thing, few succeed. With every pained smile you can see the complete disbelief and mild horror they feel at something this private and ridiculous becoming real. Surely they thought this would never advance beyond the awkward, lacking simulations that took place behind closed doors. Perhaps they would not have initially indulged their men had they the slightest inkling that their proclivities would ever stray beyond those boundaries.
It’s worth mentioning that the prostitutes are another story altogether. They do not, by and large, give a single shit.
But this woman. She spoke with self-assurance and a ringing clarity that was marred only by the barest hint of an accent, one whose origin I tried and failed to place. Though the man’s eyes wandered when I went over the more embarrassing parts of the liability agreement – you’d be surprised by how many people think that toddlers, even temporary ones, can possess adult continence – the woman’s never left mine. If anything, she seemed amused by the idea that her companion might wet himself in her presence; that he would, in fact, be helpless to keep from doing so. Even then, though, she betrayed nothing but a whisper of a smile, one that only lessened his composure when it was turned on the man to her side.
We finished up the paperwork and I led them into the chamber.
Very little of the chamber is necessary, strictly speaking. The humming lights embedded into the room’s cool steel walls are just for show, as is the soft illumination of the platform in the center. I once watched a Q&A with our founder in which he was asked why these elements are in place if they hold no practical purpose. He grinned and said that the subjects of a mad scientist would expect nothing less.
The laughter he received in response was like that of my clients.
I instructed the man – whose forehead now shone with sweat – to stand on the platform before leaving him and the woman inside. The accompanying party does not have to be present for the process, but when I saw her take up the chamber’s lone chair – saw her straighten up and cross her legs as though preparing for a meeting – I figured that there was little point in asking whether she wanted to stay.
I don’t have a choice when it comes to watching. It is, after all, my job to ensure that the process goes off without a hitch. I have, from the adjoining observation room, induced and witnessed hundreds of regressions. Some are of the belief that there is no stimulus so fantastic that it would not become dull after repeated exposure. That is perhaps true for most things, but it has not yet proven so for what I do.
I turn adults into children. That never gets old.
The process was already underway by the time I settled into my chair, tablet at the ready in case I needed to document any technical hiccups. He had, as most people do, chosen to keep his clothes on. Though nobody who goes into the chamber leaves it big enough to fill their adult outfits, I can respect the extra layer of embarrassment that must come along with being naked as the transformation occurs. Bad enough to know that a stranger in the other room is observing your shame; bad on another level entirety to know that said stranger has a front row seat to decades’ worth of nudity.
The man was doing well given his obvious unease. He ran a shaking hand through his growing, darkening hair and muttered little expressions of disbelief between barks of anxious laughter. His eyes were down and locked on his regressing form; mostly, I felt, because he didn’t want to miss a moment of what he was experiencing, but also at least partly because he wished to avoid the woman’s unblinking gaze. Though her stare never strayed, she regarded the impossibility unfolding before her with the sort of detached, benign interest typically induced by a second-rate landmark or an unremarkable sunset. It was as though she would only recognize the remarkability of the scene insofar that she would do it the respect of watching until it was complete.
Her stoicism was all the more impressive for how thoroughly it was maintained even as her companion moved past the relatively unremarkable changes of his adulthood and into those that defined his developing years. As a young man he had been attractive and athletic in a clean-cut sort of way, not that he was allowed much time to appreciate the details of his prime. That’s the other thing that takes people by surprise, how quick the process is. In thirty seconds he had gone from middle age to his physical peak, and in another thirty seconds…well…
Concern had begun to darken the man’s increasingly-boyish features as he was stripped so quickly of the landmarks of adolescence that he had not even the time to process one’s disappearance before another was lost. His hand went to his chin to register the loss of his beard, then under his shirt to confirm the sudden smoothness of his armpits. When he gasped – gasped in the same shocked, high-pitched chirp I had heard so many times before – his hand shot downwards as though moving by instinct. The man, now boy, managed to stop himself before he could confirm the most significant loss of all, freckles appearing on his beet-red cheeks as he for the first time – in more ways than one – looked up at his companion.
The woman was unaffected. If her unflinching demeanor had been impressive before, it was downright spooky now. She looked at the man without meeting his eyes, gaze ticking downward to follow his descent from middle school to elementary, from elementary to Kindergarten. Those burning cheeks of his puffed out to pinchable proportions as his hair lightened and curled, delicate tawny strands dancing above wide eyes that shined with the promise of tears. The casual suit he had worn was a mockery now, a baggy, billowing joke that had practically swallowed the boy. If he had been smiling – mugging for the camera like the child he had become, eager to show off his silliness – the scene would have been adorable. Junior caught playing dress-up in Daddy’s clothes. As it was, the tiny frown and the quivering of his smooth, dimpled chin spoke to the boy’s realization that he might be in over his head.
The process stopped. He was five years old.
I’m often helpless to keep myself from staring when a client is made that young. Of all the fantastic elements of my job, perhaps the most unbelievable is the idea that the small child standing on that unnecessarily-illuminated platform had been an adult a minute prior. The disconnect is not so great that it feels as though I’m dealing with two different people; when you’ve been doing this job for as long as I have, it becomes easy to see the genesis of a client’s adult features in rosy cheeks and wide, bewildered eyes. Even though he was now too young to get through the day without a nap, the boy still held the gentle curve to his brow that would become defined in adulthood, still possessed a sharpness in his expression that was no doubt of use in conquering whatever industry he was a captain of.
The difference was that he no longer appeared capable of running a lemonade stand, much less a business. If he had been plopped out on the street just then, no passerby would see a respectable man caught in a moment of indulgence; they would see a little boy who had lost his parents. And if something went wrong with the process – if it ended up being permanent – the client would have no longer been able to reward himself for his latest world-shaking decision with a trip to his favorite four-star restaurant. The only choice he would be trusted with would be the kind of juice box he gets to enjoy along with his chicken nuggets.
No, the process has never gone wrong in that way. It’s part of the disclaimer, yes, but only because it’s possible, not because it’s happened.
Yes, I’m sure.
Listen – do you want me to make something up along those lines, or do you want to hear this story?
There was a moment of silence after the transformation had ended, as there often is when client and observer try to process what had just happened. Not that the woman seemed in need of any such refractory period; hardly a beat had passed before she rose from her chair and strode over to the boy, looking down on him as he, with tiny fingers, clutched his oversized outfit closer to his impossibly immature form. She said something that I couldn’t hear. His frown and blush deepened and he seemed once more unable to meet her eyes. Even from where I sat I could feel the tension that crackled between them, tension that did not dissipate until the boy – with a deep, shuddering breath – relinquished his grip on his pants. He stepped out of that puddle of cloth and stood before his companion in nothing but a dress of a button-down shirt. Its long sleeves had devoured his skinny arms. Its hem swayed playfully above a pair of tiny bare feet. Its collar was just barely supported by shoulders that were slight, pale, and muscle-free.
The woman smiled and patted his curly crown. She took him by the hand and led him out of the room.
It was some time before I could pull myself out of that chair, even though I was making myself late for another appointment by lingering. My gaze was stuck on the door they had done through, as though I could see through it and into one of the guest suites the client and his companion had headed into. The suites – they used to be called “Playrooms” until management grew wise to how creepy that sounded – contain everything necessary to fully experience a temporary return to childhood. They’re designed to be appropriate for whatever age the subject has chosen for himself, which meant that this particular client was destined for a room filled with stuffed animals and action figures, crayons and fingerpaints, plastic furniture and plastic pants.
That last part is only an option, of course. There’s a variety of age-appropriate clothing available. But, given the way the woman reacted when I brought up the question of continence, it would not have surprised me if padded undies had been the first thing she dressed the client in. Shortalls would be next, perhaps, or maybe a tiny pair of cargo shorts complimented by a bright cartoon t-shirt. In any case, the important part was that the particulars of the client’s outfit were no longer up to him.
It was not juvenile fashion I was thinking of as I stared but rather what was being done in that room in order to coax the client into those immature duds. I had become convinced that it was not the man’s desires being fulfilled here; rather, it was those of his companion. The difference in the way the two of them carried themselves – before, after and during the process – had made that clear. I was stuck on this idea not because I felt compelled to take action; we had a liability waiver signed by the client, and that was all that mattered. Noorus employees are specifically instructed to avoid making inferences regarding the behavior of their clients. Our line of business is enough of a minefield without some nosy tech trying to decide whether what he sees is evidence of exploitation or merely an expression of a healthy dom/sub relationship.
I shook off those thoughts and left the room, lest I any longer delay my next client’s trip to third grade. Truth be told, I had forgotten all about the couple by the time I clocked out; but, when they appeared again a month later – to the day – it felt as though it had only been hours since I’d seen them last. The man and woman behaved just as they had during our first visit, with the former declaring that he’d had such a good time last month that he’d very much like to purchase the exact same package.
It was likely the corporate forbidding of inferring that kept me from determining right then that something was amiss. In retrospect, there had been a nervousness to the man that went beyond that which he had displayed before the first session, a sort of anxious forced cheer one might use to assure a cop that everything’s fine, just fine, no need to come in and discover the man with a gun pointed at my back. At the time, I merely chalked it up to the paranoia of a repeat customer, the fear that multiple visits to the same unsavory location had upped his chances of being discovered.
The woman said nothing. We once more went through the paperwork and the liabilities, and all she did was smile. The process unfolded just as it had last month, though this time there was more resignation and less embarrassment in the man’s reaction; his second return to Kindergarten might as well have been a visit to the dentist for the adorable little sigh he let out when he found himself swimming in another tailored suit. That notion only grew stronger when the smiling woman took the boy by the hand and led him out of the room. With his eyes locked on the ground and his skinny legs refusing to go faster than a trudge, the client looked for all the world like a pouting child being guided to a dreaded afternoon of teeth scraping and lectures on dental hygiene.
I had, of course, been curious as to what our clients do in their suites. Though I had occasionally overhead stories from the clean-up crew, their tales were little more than pieced-together speculation on what that stain on the floor had been or on how a preschooler could have summoned the strength necessary to completely trash a room in an hour. The only people who know for certain are the members of our security team, and even they only get to watch the footage when an incident has occurred. I’m friendly with some of those guys, but not so much that I was willing to risk both our jobs by asking to see what was occurring between my client and his pleasantly impassive companion.
The temptation, however, grew with each subsequent visit. They arrived on the same day every month, and every time the man asked for the same package while the woman smiled silently beside him. The only difference was the man’s obvious and growing discomfort, his hesitation now so palpable that it could no longer be mistaken as a mere product of nerves. By the third visit it was very clear that he did not want to be there; by the fourth, one might have thought that he was being led to a firing squad. Despite this, he filled out the paperwork every time as mechanically as he had during his first return to childhood. Every time, he let the woman lead him out of the chamber without a single complaint. Every time, she did nothing but smile at his distress.
It was getting to the point that I considered passing the client to a different technician. If I couldn’t make him stop coming – if I couldn’t pry into what was so horrible about his sessions – the least I could do was make it someone else’s problem. But I knew that wouldn’t be enough. I’d still see them come in every month like clockwork, and even if I wasn’t the one guiding them through the process, a mere glimpse at the stony dread on the man’s face – at the tranquil smile on the woman’s – would once again make my curiosity too much to bear.
I could, as I guided the man into his fifth session, think of nothing but putting in a transfer to another location. As much as I love my job, even quitting would have been preferable to the thought that I was acting as a perpetual accomplice to the man’s unending torment. I had started to see his pale despair in my dreams, a little boy’s pleading eyes devoured by a woman’s Cheshire cat smile. I couldn’t go on any longer.
It was, then, very lucky for me that things ended there.
I was doing my best to focus on my next client when I heard a commotion coming from the lobby. Though the man I was serving jumped up as if to leave – perhaps fearing that a police raid would bring to light his occasional forays into building blocks and thumbsucking – I managed to calm him down by assuring him that I would go out and see what the issue was.
The issue, it turned out, was that the woman was curled up against a wall, face buried in her knees as she sobbed in a way usually only reserved for small children – real or temporary. There was no sign of her partner anywhere, which made sense; with half an hour left in the session, he was still five and likely not eager to be seen by anyone. The question, then, was not only why she had left early but why she had not taken the back exit specifically designed for post-session departure. Nobody else in the room seemed particularly eager to find out; the other clients cast their eyes elsewhere, and our secretary’s attempts at consolation were awkward at best.
The woman’s sobs reverberated hollowly within me and I at once felt awful for suspecting the worst of her, for allowing her stoic demeanor to trick me into thinking that she was somehow incapable of crying the way she was right now. Still, my hands shook just so as I walked up to her, a small part of me believing that her deceptive abilities were so complete that this was just a way for her to bring another victim into whatever trap her partner had stepped into. I gently told the secretary that she could go back to her desk before kneeling before the woman and asking her what was wrong. When she looked up, her red eyes and streaking mascara spoke to a composure so shattered that it was difficult to believe it had ever been as solid as I remembered. She shook her head and wiped her eyes.
“It just can’t happen…” she managed between short, sharp breaths. “I didn’t…I didn’t ever expect him to…”
The woman inhaled and stood up so quickly that I, for a moment, knew what it must have felt like for the man to suddenly become small before her. Though her eyes were still red and her makeup still smudged, when that confident smile returned I knew that she was back in control.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done for us,” she said. “It means more than you’ll ever know.”
And then she left. I could do nothing but stare after her as she departed; even if I could think of anything to say in that moment, I don’t know that I would have been capable of giving those words voice. When the man left, he did so in typical fashion; at the end of his session and through the back door.
In most cases, that would have been the end of it. Though I worked up the nerve to ask one of my security buddies whether I could look at the couple’s tapes, the flat refusal I got in return let me know that there was no point in pursuing that avenue any further. It seemed as though I would, for the rest of my life, remain maddeningly ignorant as to what had occurred between that man and that woman, why he had looked so troubled and why she had been so repentant.
It was three months later that I saw him again.
I was at a table at my local coffee shop when he walked in. I tried not to look – my professionalism clashing against my overwhelming curiosity – but my gaze lingered just long enough for his eyes to catch mine. His cheeks instantly paled, then reddened, and he might have just kept on staring at me had the barista not gotten his attention. The flustered man finished his transaction and made to leave; but instead of heading out the door, he turned on his heel and made a beeline for my table. He sat across from me without asking whether he was welcome to do so, but, once he was seated, he seemed suddenly unable to meet my eyes or say anything. Even so, I was made to feel as though I should be intimidated by the domineering posture he had no doubt used to win any number of negotiations. The fact that I was not was almost certainly because I had seen him as a pouting, timid, adorable child.
When he finally spoke it was in the low, sharp rumble of a powerful man who has been made to feel vulnerable.
“You’re, uh…” He knocked a knuckle against the table. “You’re not allowed to talk about anything that happens in there, right?”
I assured him that I wasn’t. He seemed slightly relieved at this.
“I’ve got to talk to somebody about it.” He exhaled as he brought his eyes back to mine. “If I get a therapist, the board will see it as a sign of weakness. And my wife – well, if you listen to what I have to say, you’ll see why I can’t tell her either. Do you have a minute?”
I did my best to keep the excitement out of my voice as I told him that I did. My efforts must have been lacking, though, as he hesitated for another moment before launching into his story.
The woman I saw, he explained, was his longtime mistress. They had enjoyed a mutually beneficial agreement for nearly a decade; in exchange for her companionship, he put her up in a modest townhome in a trendy downtown neighborhood and took care of whatever expenses she incurred. I thought I could detect a hint of wistfulness in his gaze as he described their relationship, as he explained how she understood him in ways that even his wife didn’t. They had become so close that it did not surprise the man when his mistress asked him to give her a child.
“It’s not as though she didn’t deserve it,” the man sighed as his eyes drifted. “God knows she’d been good to me over the years. I might have paid for her company, but no amount of money could pay for how kind, patient, stimulating and loving she was. And I know for a fact that she would have been an excellent mother.”
That, he said, was why it was so difficult to turn her down. A child was a complication that he simply couldn’t justify, a living testimony to his infidelity that he knew would one day be the reason for his affair being brought to light. He loved his wife, but he was also intimidated by her. She was a power player in her own right and not the sort of person to forgive years of philandering. Had his mistress and her child been discovered, the man explained, he’d never so much as work in a mailroom again.
He was surprised by how poorly the woman took the news, and doubly surprised by what she suggested as recompense. If she couldn’t have his child, she declared, then the man would have to play the part. Not permanently, of course; she was not cruel enough to try and rip him completely from his life and plunk him back in Kindergarten. Once a month, he would be her little boy; and that would continue for as long as she saw fit. Though the man was mortified by the idea – he’d always thought regression sessions fit only for the weak-willed and indulgent among us – he had little choice but to comply. The alternative was that the woman tell his wife about the affair, stripping him of the two most important relationships in his life.
“It’s, uh…” He scratched the back of his head and let out something like a laugh. “It’s strange that it doesn’t feel like anything.”
Yes, I said. It certainly is. The silence swelled between us for a moment before I asked him if that’s why he had looked more and more distraught with every session; he hated being turned into a child and couldn’t figure out any way to keep it from happening. For the first time in many months, I saw the man smile.
“I loved every minute,” he murmured. “Those days with her were some of the best of my life.”
The anxiety I had seen, he explained, came about precisely because he had enjoyed it so much. He didn’t know what it said about him that he’d had more fun laying on his stomach and putting a crayon to a coloring book than from anything he could do as an adult. What's more, with each subsequent session he became more convinced that what he and the woman were doing amounted to a kind of infidelity that dwarfed even the years of cheating that had led up to it. There was something more intimate about their companionship in those hours, he said. Something that went beyond mere sex in its purity and innocence. The surprising enjoyment he took from childish games and toys was, after all, only a small part of what made those days so special. His true joy came from knowing that the woman was there the whole time, there to play with him and cuddle him and treat him with as much love as any parent could possibly give their child.
“She even cleaned me up once,” he chuckled. “I was all set to bawl my eyes out, but she was so tender and gentle during the whole thing that a few minutes later I had forgotten all about it.”
Cleaned you up?, I asked. He gave me a wilting look.
“Do you really need me to spell it out for you?”
I told him that I didn’t. Those plastic pants might’ve gotten some use after all.
As the months went by, he found himself growing even closer to the woman. It was with some alarm that he realized his true desire was not to be with her as her husband; it was to be with her as her son. He had come to this conclusion during the third session, he explained, when he fell asleep in her lap as she hummed a lullaby native to her country. It was not until the fifth session that he worked up the courage to ask if they could make the arrangement permanent.
“It wouldn’t have been anything at all,” he mused, as though he were talking about getting a parking ticket taken off his record. “I know that your technology can make it permanent. All I’d have to do is grease a few palms – yours included, since you’d have to oversee the ‘accident’ that would keep me that way – and my adult self would disappear. Her son would appear in his place, complete with a set of paperwork that’d make it seem as though he’d been there the whole time.”
He had explained all of this to the woman, had given her his very best pitch; one that, he admitted, must have been at least somewhat undercut by the chirpy little voice in which it had been delivered. For a moment, he said, the woman didn’t do anything. And then she started to cry. The man, who had been accustomed to being taken care of while temporarily small, found himself at a loss. He didn’t know how to comfort her, and her tears made him feel like shedding a few of his own. It was some time before she could compose herself enough to speak. When she did, she smiled sadly and took both of his small palms in her own, rubbing her thumbs reassuringly against the backs of his hands.
I thought I saw him shiver in that moment, as though he, for an instant, had recalled exactly what that had felt like.
The woman had not only felt the same way, but had come to that feeling exactly when he had. As she had stroked the hair of the dozing boy curled up in her lap, she realized that she had never loved anyone as much as she did the child sleeping safely in her warm embrace. It was not an idea that she dared to vocalize, though, because – despite the awful temptation – she could never bring herself to do it. The man had a life already. A wife, a business, children of his own and grandchildren on the way. It would be an act of pure selfishness on both of their parts to take him away from all that, to leave a void of grief where there had once been dependability, respect, and love.
At this point the man’s voice broke, and it was not until he had cleared his throat several times that he seemed capable of continuing. Even then, his tone trembled as he described how she had wiped a tear from his smooth cheek and kissed him on the forehead, how she had told him that they couldn’t see each other anymore. If this went on any longer, she had chuckled, I’d be too tempted to take you home with me. And we certainly can’t have that.
That was the last thing she said before she left the room. The man watched her go and then spent the rest of the session sobbing like the child he resembled. He hadn’t seen her since; all attempts at contact had been unreturned.
She was gone.
I was cold when he finished his story. Neither of us said anything until the man, with reassumed brusque professionalism, thanked me for my time and made to leave.
Wait, I said. There’s just one thing I don’t understand.
He remained in his chair and eyed me expectantly.
I told him that a man like him must be privy to all the pleasures this world can offer; that, as much fun as he’d had as a child, the life of a little boy must pale in comparison to the one he leads now. How could he be so willing to give up everything he had attained in exchange for such a simple existence?
I was taken aback by how broadly the man grinned in response. He asked me if I’d ever had a chance to experience it for myself. No, I responded. Certainly I was curious – and my employee discount almost made the prospect economically feasible – but I’d never taken the plunge.
“You should try it sometime,” he chuckled as he leaned back in his chair. “Then maybe you’ll see what I mean.”
I chewed on that for a moment, taking a sip from my coffee and looking away in what I hoped was a suitable deflection of my sudden self-consciousness. Though the cost involved was one reason for my not having yet tried the process for myself, the other revolved around the fact that I had seen it from the outside. One of the main complaints we receive about our service is that we do not provide our clients a mirror through which they might observe their transformation for themselves. Though we say that we cannot risk introducing something as breakable as glass to the chamber, the truth is that most people are simply not be able to handle what they would see. We learned as much during beta testing. People screamed. People cried. People fainted. Even those that made it through the process unscathed reported a much lower rate of satisfaction than those who had been denied a mirror.
Our clients are, of course, free to look down at themselves and watch in that way. Most do. There are limitations to that perspective, though, limitations that keep one from taking in every last element of their transformation. Imagine what it's like to see everything. To just watch. To not be able to do anything but watch. Knowing that - with every receding wrinkle, every dwindle of height, every ebb of strength - you are being drawn closer and closer towards an existence you have not known for decades. You are watching yourself grow small, immature, helpless, and adorable. And there isn't a single thing you can do about it.
Though we advise our clients to try and envision the transformation before their session - we find that those who do so experience significantly less discomfort - very few are able to accurately imagine what their descent into childhood will actually look like.
I don't need to imagine how mine would unfold. I've witnessed the transformation so many times that the patterns are burned into my memory. If I close my eyes, I can see myself growing younger. I can visualize every detail of every instant.
And that terrifies me.
I must've been lost in that thought for a moment, as the impatience I saw on the man's face when I looked up told me that I was wasting his time. I suspect that he had suffered me as long as he had only because I had been a sympathetic ear. Though my first instinct was to apologize and let him get on with his day, there was still one part of his story that nagged at me.
You said that you love your wife, I ventured.
"I do." He furrowed his brow as though I had accused him of feeling otherwise.
If that's the case, I continued, treading lightly, why don't you tell her? Not about the affair, I mean - about how important this is to you.
The man's mask of self-assurance slipped. He shook his head, bit his lip, and stared into his coffee.
"She'd never go for it," he murmured. "Even if I could work up the nerve to tell her...there's just no way. She's not into this sort of thing."
I let out a small laugh. I stood, smiled down at the man, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
Neither were you, I said.
I left the coffeehouse without saying another word or looking back, feeling cool until I realized a block later that I'd been walking in the wrong direction. I wasn't really embarrassed about that until six months later, when I saw him again.
The pre-session meeting was remarkably similar to the man's first. He was nervous and full of forced cheer, though I couldn't tell whether that came from him pretending that it was his first time or from it being the first time with the woman that he had come with. She was calm throughout and spoke very little. She was older than the man's initial companion but no less striking or self-assured. When the process itself unfolded, she too observed it with a kind of detached, clinical interest.
There was, however, one striking difference. It came after the transformation had finished, when the man found himself for the sixth time as a Kindergartener swamped in the abandoned trappings of adulthood. The look he had worn whenever he took the hand of his mistress had spoken to the inner conflict of the man turned boy. It was a precociously anxious expression that had always kept him from completely resembling the child he had become.
He was smiling when he took his wife's hand. So was she.
So, that’s the story. I hope none of my other friends spoiled it for you; I tell them to keep it to themselves, but it’s not like I can monitor that twenty-four seven.
Good. I’m glad.
Hm? No, not yet.
Well, I've still got that hangup I told you about. Besides, even with my discount, it’s enormously expensive. I don’t know. Maybe someday.
No kidding. I didn’t take you for the type, if you don’t mind my saying so. I usually have a good sense about that sort of thing.
Well. Come down to the facility whenever you like. Ask for me by name; not that the other technicians are bad at their jobs or anything, but I’ll make sure you get treated right.
It was my pleasure. Hopefully I’ll see you soon.