We began to grow tails. At first, none of us knew that everybody else had hard knobs above their buttocks, so we hid our shame under our skirts and pants. We must have known somehow that it wasn’t treatable, so we didn’t see our doctors.
As the knobs grew thicker and slightly more extended, we stopped frequenting swimming pools, beaches, and gyms. Husbands and wives hid their tail stumps from each other, convinced that the new appendage would chase their spouse into the arms of a tail-free lover. Parents hid the tail stumps from their children, who had none and were blissfully unaware of the new adult trauma. Employees hid the tail stumps from their bosses and coworkers by slight of hand, focusing their attention instead on bar charts and graphs, and thick new strategic plans.
When the tails grew as long as a foot or two or three, we tamed them with girdles, ace bandages, and packing tape. The strapping down was uncomfortable, like restricting an arm, only worse, because our emotions now abandoned our faces and lived in our tails instead. Our tails wagged with happiness, slashed with annoyance, or curled under in fear, in spite of our attempts to still them.
Inevitably, we became aware of the bulging, shifting behinds of others, and suspected the truth. We were not alone in our shame. Close friends and family members finally told each other of their traumatic development. All at once, everybody knew.
The most daring of us released our tails and let them swing free. Then the rest of us. It was immediately apparent that no two tails were alike. One was thick as a sapling, scaled like a rat’s tail; another was wide, furry, and gray-toned like a squirrel’s; another straight and black, like a Labrador’s.
Race, personality, and sex had no effect on tail assignment. An old person could sprout a Saint Bernard tail, while a young person might grow only a deer puff. A white person could grow a brown tail; a black man’s could be beige.
A brisk business grew around tail adornment and maintenance. Tail wigs, extensions, clip-ons, jewelry. Butt scarves were especially popular, as it was difficult for most to show an anus to one and all. Furniture and toilets now came in bold new shapes to accommodate the tails. Flea powders and tail shampoos came in a myriad of pleasing scents.
Some considered the tail the work of the devil. Some thought it God’s work. Some blamed aliens from outer space; others environmental pollution. There was an explosion of thought regarding the theory of latent DNA, which had been like a time bomb hidden in our bodies’ codes.
There was above all a rush to advocate that a certain type of tail made one person superior to another. Bushy versus smooth. Long versus short. Prehensile versus canine. Circular wag versus linear. There was a great confusion of interviews, advertisements, proofs, disputations, and scientific inquiries. Tails varied widely within a family, so those who advocated tail superiority alienated friends and family, or pitted them friend against friend.
Society re-shuffled itself around the theories of various scientists, charlatans, and seers. Some of them told us it was the beginning of the end: we would now all revert to our inner animal selves. We watched for signs of other animal features developing on our bodies. Snouts, body hair, tendencies to drop to all fours. We remained human, to the relief of some and the disappointment of others.
Although we didn’t immediately transform further after growing tails, most people saw it as a step towards something. The next step in evolution, a step towards a new state of mind, a step forward. That’s why we were all so shocked when the tails began to go away. It traumatized each of us the much the same as growing them in the first place had, but instead of hiding our fear, we wailed and cradled our limp tails like dying children.
The loss took several months. When our tails were gone—fur shed, flesh melted—we searched for the meaning of the transformation, but couldn’t come to any consensus. Like many events over the course of a lifetime, we knew we might never understand the purpose, but that didn’t stop the debating, the mulling, the rehashing.
After many years, we grew old and tired, and our conversations and expressions dulled, until someone or another would mention the year of the tails. Then we would light up, even if briefly, remembering the drama, the color, the wonder, the passion.