Worth All That by Sarah Otts

The most imperfect queer in the world stands in line outside a U-Haul depot, holding an empty mason jar. This is not a clichéd joke about queers and premature cohabitation enabled by rental moving van companies, nor even a study of the mason jar as an object in queer history, emblematic of Sandor Katz’s culinary contributions to the art of fermentation in the wake of his diagnosis with HIV. Rather, this is the story of our protagonist, and only of our protagonist — if they even consent to that title — who mostly wears navy blue button-down shirts and has never made a rash decision (or a sourdough starter) in their life.    

And today, our protagonist has found themselves sweating at the end of the world’s slowest Pride parade, inching towards the understaffed orange storefront on hot, blinding concrete. The rattle of the neighboring highway accompanies their racing thoughts. All morning long, news has flowed in of friend after friend sick with a novel amoeba. Hoping for a distraction, the protagonist squints to observe the crowd ahead.

Directly in front of them, a buff, cologne-scented couple stands with dozens of flattened moving boxes under their arms. Several yards away, they spot a girl they swear they recognize from Hinge, tangled around the waist of a powerfully tall femme, our protagonist’s exact opposite. A gaggle of attractive, carefree roommates with edgy haircuts and enviable tattoos debate who will drive their moving van. But between each pair or group waiting to fulfill their domestic dreams, visions of chore charts dancing in their heads, a more somber type of customer fills out the winding line. They all seem nervous and carry jars of their own: jars that once held sticky peanut butter or hot salsa or tangy pickles or even sourdough starter. These people don’t want moving vans, and neither does our protagonist. U-Haul also rents out storage units.

An ice cream truck rolls by and doesn’t stop but hits our protagonist with nostalgia for childhood summer sensations. The sweet cool of a popsicle on their tongue, the cold Atlantic under their sandy toes, aloe calming a well-earned sunburn…

But then the crowd suddenly gets agitated, eyebrows furrowed over smartphones. A nearby jurisdiction has just found a way to legislate people’s kneecaps, asserting state control over them under specific circumstances that have never happened to the protagonist’s own kneecaps but that certainly could. A few minutes later, the crowd settles. They’ve grown accustomed to this sort of news. Then, two texts come in; two more friends infected with the amoeba.

Finally, the protagonist finds themselves at the counter at the front of the line.

The cashier eyes their mason jar and pulls an empty form from a stack of paper. “I’m not sure why we don’t have a nurse or something doing these waivers, but I have to ask you a few questions,” she says, waving the paper around.

The protagonist nods, hesitantly, suddenly distracted by a memory of folding origami, which gives way to a memory of folded, sweaty limbs.

“First, are you aware that your mind will be extracted from your body via a process that is FDA approved but that has the potential for side effects, listed here?”

“Yes, of course,” says the protagonist, who’s already studied the list for months. The cashier draws a check mark.

“Do you have a contact to pick up your mind once it is in this jar, given that you will be unable to walk, drive, or otherwise animate yourself?”

“Yes,” says the protagonist, as they recall the freedom of sticking their hand outside the car window during a long road trip. Check mark.

“Are you aware that U-Haul has the utmost security measures for the storage of your corporal form but that it cannot be held liable for the effects of catastrophic storms, earthquakes, or other Acts of God.” Our protagonist winces, but nods. No more threatening than the alternative. Check mark.

“And I assume that you’re lucky enough to have a source of income that doesn’t require your body, but will allow you to continuously pay your rental unit, at the rate of $104 a week?,” she says, while lifting some packing material from here to there, and clearly no longer reading the sheet verbatim.

This embarrasses our protagonist, who fancies themselves on the people’s side of the class war. “Yeah, um. Software engineering.” Check mark. (Truly a career in which the body only gets in the way, according to the protagonist’s hunched upper back.)

“K, that’s settled,” says the cashier, “Go that way” and points to a closed door to the right of the counter.

Our protagonist’s feet refuse to move, but their mind continues to wander.

The first sip of coffee each morning; the electricity generated by a brush with the arm of a not-yet-hopeless crush; the stench of their workout buddy’s pits, enthusiastically 6 months on T; jerking off under the blankets on a cold, dark afternoon; scraping their elbow during a late-bloomer’s attempt to skateboard; tears sliding down their face while reading the dyke bar raid scene of Stone Butch Blues; the first day in early fall they could justify wearing a sweater; the first time they ran a 5K and then guzzled an entire blue Powerade…

Is safety worth all that? Nevermind the $104 a week — not exactly a deal.

“It’s not like you won’t have the key,” scoffs the impatient cashier. “You can have the damn thing back whenever you want.”

Their phone buzzes. Another friend down.

“Okay,” says our protagonist, stepping towards the room. “I hope someday that’ll be worth the risk.”

Sarah Otts is a writer and software engineer based in Somerville, Massachusetts. In their free time, they play trombone in brass bands and swim in cold lakes.