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Kary English is a two-time Writers of the Future finalist. Her fiction has appeared in the Grantville Gazette’s Universe Annex and Daily Science Fiction. This is her first appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

 TOTALED
by
Kary English

Think. I’ve got to think.

If I still had a body, I’d be flashing cold right now, with nausea clawing at my throat. My mind rebels against it, but I think …

Damn it! Why did I ever sign that research waiver?

I think I’m dead.

***

I remember the accident like it was yesterday—no, like it’s still happening, with the tires skidding on wet asphalt. It was the first big storm of the season. The boys had dentist appointments, so we all slept in, and I made waffles for breakfast. I can still smell the syrup.

Lightning crackled overhead. We ducked our heads and ran for the car, spurred by the smell of fresh rain on hot pavement.

We hydroplaned at the bottom of the on ramp. The back end fishtailed, and we skidded into the traffic lanes. A big diesel monster plowed into the driver’s-side door. The spin sucked us into the gap between the truck and trailer.

Everything was slow motion after that. The flip. Spinning on the roof. The raging cacophony of silence when we hit the tree.

The boys, strapped in their seats, were fine thanks to the side cushion airbags. The other driver walked away.

But I was totaled.

***

Damn, this is hard.

I try to process what I’m feeling. If I’m feeling. I cycle through my senses.

It’s dark. Dark like a cave on the night of the new moon. I try to inhale through my nose but nothing happens. It smells like sterile air in the containment room at the lab. It smells like nothing.

My tongue remembers the warmth of my mouth and the smooth-hard shapes of my teeth, but that’s a memory, not a perception.

My adrenaline rises. My heartbeat thumps in my ears like an off-balance wash load, but I don’t have ears—or a heart—so that’s a memory, too.

No, not a memory. An association formed of repeated fear responses over thirty-eight years of life.

If I had hands, they’d tremble. My mouth would go dry. An fMRI would show shifting colors lighting up my pre-frontal cortex, then racing through the midbrain and amygdala.

I want to hug my knees to my chest and hide my face in my arms. I want to take deep breaths to calm myself, but I can’t. All of that is an illusion now.

Wait.

Maybe I can.

I remember a study where subjects imagined flame and their skin warmed. If I imagine breathing, maybe I can fool my brain into sweeping the stress chemicals from my tissues.

I focus every scintilla of will on taking a deep, cleansing breath. Like sensations in a phantom limb, I feel my chest expand. Feel cool air flowing through my nostrils and down the back of my throat. I let the breath out, and my shoulders relax even though I don’t have shoulders, either.

I do it again. And again, until the darkness feels soft and comforting like flannel sheets on Christmas Eve.

Now I can think.

Where am I?

No way to tell. Should be a lab at Allied Neuro Associates if I’ve left the hospital already. The research rider was explicit about that. A total meant immediate notification of ANA so the tissues could be stabilized for transfer.

How long have I been like this?

No way to know that, either, but it doesn’t feel like long. Immediate transport was vital to stave off the effects of glucose and oxygen deprivation prior to immersion in the SuMP chamber. SuMP, sonicated microparticle perfusion. Continuous oxygenation, near-perfect preservation of living tissue for up to six months. No refrigeration needed.

The irony of the situation isn’t lost on me. My own research helped make this possible.

***

The personal total wasn’t a new concept. It started back in the Teens when the Treaders put their first candidate in office. Healthcare costs were insane. Insurance was almost impossible to get. The Treaders said taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for medical care someone else couldn’t afford, so they instituted a review board for totals.

The uneducated, the elderly, the poor—they could be totaled at less than a year’s wages. My doctorate put my total at lifetime earnings plus a multiplier for patents. My policy was supposed to be enough to cover anything. I thought I was safe.

The research rider came with an annuity. I did it for the boys. I had a good salary, but things were still tight after the divorce. If I died or got totaled, the rider said ANA could have any tissues they wanted, and the annuity would go to Dale and Zachary.

Tissues, of course, meant brains.

***

It’s still dark, and I can’t tell how much time has passed. Have I slept? The accident plays over and over in my mind, a screech of tires followed by a stomach-twisting lurch. I wish for something, anything, to distract me from it.

There’s a soft clunk followed by a vibration. It’s not a sound but a sensation of movement so slight that I wonder if I’ve imagined it.

The darkness continues, and the vibration comes again. It’s rhythmic, and I recognize it. It’s the HVAC system cycling on and off at the lab. ANA for sure, then.

The sensation puzzles me. We left touch alone because an isolated brain has no skin, no nerves to transmit tactile sensations. How, then, am I able to sense movement?

I ponder the sensation. I’m not hearing the vibration so much as feeling it. It seems like forever before I make the connection. Vascular tissue. No nerves in the brain itself, but it’s full of vascular tissue for blood supply, plus we preserved the optical and auditory nerve clusters for later activation. Interesting.

There’s a stronger, sharper vibration in what I assume is the hallway outside the lab. It stops and starts in small jolts. Footsteps? The sensation intensifies as if they’re coming closer. In a flash, I realize I know them. It’s my research partner, Randy.

Oh, God! I’m in my own lab? Randy! Randy, it’s me. Get me out of here! But he can’t. Not anymore.

Randy Moreno, PhD in AI and neural interfaces. Mine was in good ol’ neuroscience and distributed cognition. Our focus was biotech, integrating electronics with neural pathways. I was bio. He was tech. I guess he still is.

We were working on a bionet, a microscopic web of living, electrical conduits no more than three molecules wide. If we could stabilize the bionet, there was so much we could do—regulate neurotransmitters, end depression, cure Alzheimer’s. We were so close, and the list seemed endless.

Randy bangs things around, and I feel a sloshing sensation. He’s moving me. There are bouts of protracted jostling interspersed with maddening lengths of nothing. Then my entire awareness is blasted by a stimulus larger than a thousand suns. I can feel myself screaming, my phantom mouth open wide, phantom hands covering phantom ears. And that’s when the stimulus falls into place. Sound. Riotous, deafening sound.

Holy crap! I can hear!

My newfound hearing adjusts. It’s quiet in the lab, but the tiniest sound seems painfully crisp after my time in the dark void of nothing. The AC. The soft hum of machinery. The squeak of Randy’s lab chair, and the rustle of clothing as he moves.

It works. I can’t believe it works! I mean, we knew the hearing module worked with chimpanzees and fetal tissue, but this was our first trial with an adult human brain. A surge of pride and excitement rushes through me. If I were truly alive, Randy and I would be hugging and high-fiving.

I hear a tapping of keys, then a blast of Zydeco music. Geez, Randy. Couldja make it any louder?

Randy likes his music loud and fast. Zydeco was a favorite. So was old speed metal. I could never think with Washboard Gumbo or Motorhead drowning out my Pachelbel Canon, so we’d both agreed to induction transmitters when we worked together. It’s part of what inspired the sound research.

By the time the day ends, I’ve decided that I’m not really in the lab. I’m in a twisted hell of Black Sabbath and Buckwheat Zydeco.

Finally, the onslaught ceases, and I can hear Randy gathering his coat and keys. His footsteps retreat, the door closes, and the lab goes still. The void settles over me again, and I feel strangely bereft, but I push the feeling aside. It must be night. Time to plan.

I picture the lab setup. If nothing’s changed, I know every monitor, every piece of equipment. Randy’s more of an electronics guy than a wetware guy, but he knows when an fMRI looks hinky. Enough anomalies, and he’ll start to wonder. He knows I signed that rider. Enough anomalies, and he’ll know it’s me.

***

When the door opens the next morning, I’m ready. I need a happy thought to light up the reward center on the fMRI.

I remember getting off the airplane after my last conference. The boys were waiting at the baggage claim with their grandparents. They ran to meet me and I grabbed them up in a hug.

Damn, wrong memory. Now I’m crying, and I’ve missed the moment.

The musical assault resumes and scatters my thoughts like a beaker hitting the tile floor.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

***

The door opens. Here we go again. Kittens! Fluffy, furry kittens!

Nothing. Is Randy even watching? Maybe it hasn’t occurred to him that lab tissues shouldn’t have feelings.

My disappointment sinks into an auditory cloud of key tapping and Slayer.

I’ve almost given up when I hear it.

“What the hell?” Randy says.

Kittens!

Oh my God, Randy. See it! Puppies. Kittens. Christmas!

Randy’s rushing around the lab, fussing with the equipment. The frenetic sound of his movement tells me he’s onto something.

Then the door to the lab opens, and a female voice speaks.

“Hey, Randy. Want to get some lunch?”

Dammit! Jeanine Sanders. Grad student lab assistant who works part-time in PR. She has a thing for Randy. I can hear it every time she says his name.

“Nah, I’m in the middle of something here. I keep getting a p300 on this brain.”

A p300? Oooh, good catch, Randy! I forgot about that one.

The file cabinet rattles with a soft thump. Is Jeanine sitting on it? Can’t she see he’s busy? Shoo! Scoot!

“P300—novelty response, right? So?”

Randy’s chair swivels. The wheels squeak. “It’s more complicated than novelty,” he answers. “Like, did you ever play Slapjack as a kid? No? OK, Joker Poker, where the joker’s wild? P300 only hits on the Joker. Regular poker where the joker’s just a misdeal? Nothin’.”

Randy’s chair rolls across the room. “So,” he says, showing off for her, “every time I come into the lab, this thing spikes a p300.”

Duh, Randy. It’s because I know you.

“Well, hell if I know, Randy. Maybe it knows you.”

Great, so Jeanine-the-annoying-grad-student gets it but my own research partner doesn’t.

“Ha, ha. Very funny. Hey, when you go out, would you bring me a sandwich? I’m gonna be stuck here awhile.”

Jeanine’s voice brightens. “Sure thing, Randy!” Her heels click across the floor until the door closes behind her, then Randy turns his attention back to me.

His chair creaks, and he slurps a liquid that’s probably coffee. It sounds like he’s adjusting monitors and checking the settings on our equipment.

“OK, brain,” he says, talking more to himself than to me. “What’s going on in there? You playin’ tricks on ol’ Ran’?”

I imagine Handel’s Messiah, and the pure, liquid notes of Maria Callas’s Ave Maria.

It’s a message, Randy. Please see it.

Randy goes silent. There’s a fumbling click, and Slayer stops mid-riff.

I hear him take another swallow of coffee and return the cup to the desk.

“Maggie?” He whispers it. I can hear the horror and disbelief in his voice.

Yes, Randy! Yes, it’s me. I knew you could do it.

“Oh, God. Oh, Maggie. I have to—What do I have to do? Uh, look, I need more bandwidth, more data.”

Randy shuffles papers. He moves his coffee mug, then his chair. “Maggie, just hang on. I need to wire you up on the full array. I’ll be right back.”

By the time he returns, we’ve both calmed down a little.

“Christ, Maggie. How did this happen? The accident, right? Light up something for me so I know I’m not crazy.”

I think of brownies. Hot. Sweet. Fudgy. Gooey in the middle but crunchy around the edges.

Randy’s tapping his fingers on his desk. I can picture him half-standing, leaning his weight on his hands while he stares at the monitor. “OK,” he says. “I can get this. Parahippocampal gyrus. Christ, Maggie, could you have picked something easier to spell? Lemme look it up.”

I hear the rapid-fire clicking of his keyboard.

“Reward center. Associated with food. You’re … hungry? No, wait. You can’t be hungry. Reward center—it means yes, right? Yes?”

Apple pie hot from the oven with the steamy scent of cinnamon rising from the crust.

Randy’s voice sounds intense but distracted. It’s his work mode when he’s hot on a breakthrough.

“Got it. OK, Maggie, let’s try ‘no.’ Whaddaya got for me?”

I’ve thought about no. Pain won’t work. I don’t think I can fake it consistently. Neither will sadness. Too diffuse. I need something baser, more instinctive. I need disgust.

Vomit. Maggots. Rotting, stinking meat crawling with flies.

“Whoa, anterior insula. Yeah, that’ll do it. Now let’s run some confirmation trials. Give me a yes.”

We practice until yes and no are instant, consistent and clear. The door opens again, but it’s not Jeanine with Randy’s sandwich. It’s a male voice asking Randy if there’s been any progress.

I know that voice. Doc Leavitt, ANA’s Executive VP of Research. Arrogant bastard. We’re all PhDs here, but we call each other by our first names. Not Leavitt. He wants to be called Doctor.

“Yeah, there’s been progress. It’s Maggie.” Randy sounds livid. His voice is low and constrained, like he’s holding back from violence. There’s a thwack and a rattling, metallic crash like someone slamming a file on the desk and kicking a chair across the lab. “It’s Maggie, you troglodyte prick.”

For once I’m glad I’m just a brain in a jar because I would have laughed out loud. Randy, Randy, it’s Doctor Troglodyte Prick to you.

“Of course it’s Dr. Hauri,” says Leavitt. “She was too close on the bionet project. We gave your notes to three separate teams, and they’ve gotten nowhere. Learn to communicate with her so you can finish it before the perfusion decay sets in.”

“You gave our notes—?” Randy sounds incredulous, then indignant. “Wait. You want us to finish it? Screw you!”

Oh, God. I wish I could see. Don’t punch him, Randy. Please, don’t punch him.

“Insubordination, Mr. Moreno. I will forget you said that when your proof-of-concept hits my desk. Until then, remember that I could send the tissue to the Connectomics lab for neural mapping instead of leaving it with you.”

Connectomics. Where I’d be plastinated and carved into millions of transparent slices. I take it back, Randy. Punch him.

The door closes again, and I hear Randy righting his chair. He sighs heavily.

“Well, Maggie, guess we need to finish it. What do you say?”

I hesitate. The bionet was my life’s work. Of course I want to finish it. But in this state, is it even possible? With the perfusion decay, I don’t even know how long we have.

After a few moments, I think of ripe peaches, and how their heady scent used to fill my mother’s kitchen during summer canning. I imagine their velvet under my fingers and peach juice running down the inside of my arm.

“OK, then,” says Randy. “We finish it.”

***

In the hallway outside, Jeanine’s heels tap their way to the door. I wonder what kind of sandwich she got him? I hope it’s a cheese steak. Randy likes those. Her voice when the door opens is unbearably perky.

“Hey, Randy. They were out of peppers for a cheese steak, so I got you a Cubano.” He ushers her in with a sharp whisper. When the door clicks closed, Randy swears her to secrecy.

Wait—Jeanine’s on the team? Hello, nobody asked me about this? I sulk while Randy eats his sandwich.

***

Randy and I work together in the lab just like we used to. Well, almost like we used to. Jeanine keeps Randy fed, and I count the lunches to keep track of the days. After the fourth one, a gooey meatball sub by the sound, something’s changed in Randy’s voice. There’s a huskier note that tells me he’s beginning to return Jeanine’s feelings. My sense of loss and bewilderment comes as a rude surprise, and I retreat into memories of my boys.

***

Randy says the auditory linkage wasn’t that difficult. We had it pretty well nailed down in previous trials, but vision is being fiddly. There’s not enough time to code even rudimentary opsin mimickry, so Randy scraps the environmental sensor that would have let me see what’s going on in the lab and switches to one of his implants. Leavitt, meanwhile, slaps Randy with a HIPAA redaction and non-disclosure order specifying that the anonymous tissue donor for our project be identified only as subject HF47-A.

Great. I’ve been officially reduced to a number.

Randy’s visual assist implant has been used with the legally blind, but it’s supposed to augment organic vision, not replace it, and it’s never been used for remote viewing. Without the opsin profiles, Randy’s only choice is to slave the input to a live source, namely his own eyes. He’s breaking at least six internal policies, and probably a federal law or two, but we both know Leavitt will look the other way if it works.

The first two trials are abject failures. On the second one, Randy says there’s a flicker in my visual cortex on the fMRI, but my subjective experience is negative. Nada. Zip.

Randy’s voice is tense and layered with exhaustion. “Listen, Maggie, we get one more shot at this. The nerve endings are too frayed for another splice if we fail.”

I know the connection’s good before he finishes. I can’t see, exactly, but there’s … something. It’s like the dull gray of dawn when your eyes are still closed.

“I’ve got activity in your visual cortex, Maggie. Can you confirm?”

The sensation becomes a vague blurriness. Brownies, Randy! Brownies!

“Subjective experience confirmed. FMRI activity increasing.”

Randy has prepared me for this. He doesn’t want to overtax the connection, so he puts on goggles that limit his field of vision to a single image.

“I’m looking at a shape, Maggie. I want you to identify it.” As I listen to his voice, corners start to emerge from the blur.

“Is the shape a circle?”

Cockroaches swarming over kitchen tiles, invading the cupboards and …

“Is it a square?”

The blur slowly sharpens, the angles too acute for a square. Cat barf studded with clumps of bile-soaked fur.

“Is it a triangle?”

Yes! Hot, fresh coffee with farmhouse bacon sizzling in an iron skillet.

“Shape identification confirmed. Hot damn, Maggie!”

***

Randy spends the rest of the week running confirmation trials—shape and color identification, simple photographs, then a video clip of an old Three Stooges segment. Finally, he’s satisfied that the neurolink works as well as it’s going to. “OK, Maggie, we’re ready for full-spectrum visual. We’ll go live first thing in the morning.”

But Randy doesn’t come to the lab the next morning. I know it’s morning because I can hear muted activity in the hallway outside—muffled voices, footsteps passing, the squeaky wheels of the coffee cart. Where is Randy?

I wait. Five minutes, five hours. With no external markers, the difference is nearly impossible to tell. Finally, I hear his voice. “Hey, Maggie. I’ve got a surprise for you. Are you ready?”

The sound startles me. I never heard the door open. Is Randy even here? His voice sounds tinny and distant, like it’s coming from a speaker. A speaker? What the hell is Randy up to?

“OK, Mag, we’re about to go live with the visual feed. Not much I can do about the audio quality. I had to route my phone through the computer speakers. I’ve got your fMRI synced to my datapad, so we’ll start with something easy while I check the levels.”

There’s a slow dawning of pale white light. The image comes into focus and I find myself staring at a cinderblock wall covered with thick layers of dove gray paint. Randy’s facing an interior corner to keep the visual complexity low.

“FMRI’s lookin’ good, Maggie. Let’s open it up a bit.”

The image pans to the left, and I see a blue tile floor and three porcelain sinks mounted to the wall. Wait a minute. Those aren’t sinks. A tinny little toilet flushes in the background. Great, for our first live visual, Randy takes me to the men’s room.

“Hey,” he says, anticipating my response, “it’s not like I could start us off in the girl’s bathroom. We’re headed outside now. Stick with me.”

“Outside” is an exterior hallway flanked by a courtyard. The air is heavy with mist, and a steady drip, drip of water falls from the eaves. A hedge of peonies lines the walk, but the spent blooms are drooping, their pink tissue petals brown and curling at the edges. I’ve been here before, but I can’t place it until Randy reaches for the gymnasium door. The boys’ school!

The gym is set up for an assembly, and Jeanine is saving us a seat in the second row. She waves at Randy, but I stare straight past her to the edge of Randy’s visual field where twenty school children fidget in metal chairs waiting for the assembly to start. Twenty, but I only have eyes for two.

My boys. I see their smiles, their faces. Dale sits in the front row, wearing red sneakers and his brother’s favorite Transformers shirt. Zachary has new glasses and gel in his hair.

Jeanine takes Randy’s hand, and the three of us watch together while Zack receives a certificate for reading achievement, and Dale gets honored as Student of the Month. It’s the best surprise Randy could have picked. I wish I could hug them all and never let go. I want to cry, but I can’t. Real tears are just one more casualty of the accident.

On the way back to the car, Randy puts his arm around Jeanine’s shoulders and thanks her for setting this up. He wants to check the readouts in the lab, and she has to get back to her press releases, but they make plans for dinner later. Randy whistles happily until he sits down in his computer chair. When he does, there’s this quick intake of breath, a gasp that’s never been good when I’ve heard it before.

“Crap, Maggie. Look at this.” The decay rate on the SuMP is running thirty-eight percent above normal and climbing. “You’re burning too hot, Mag. You’ve got to slow it down.”

Slow it down? How am I supposed to do that?

Randy checks the connections and scans the data gain. “You’re the first live, human trial, Maggie. We never figured on a brain with your IQ, or that you’d be conscious. So, stop thinking or something. Can you meditate?”

Randy raises his hand to his mouth, then drags his fingers through his hair. “I’m re-instituting hypothermic protocols. It should shave a few percent off the burn.”

I can’t feel the cold, but I see the wires and the aluminum cooling tank. Randy checks the readouts again.

“OK, Mag. Your file says you’ve been here seventeen weeks. If we can keep the burn rate down we might get six, maybe eight, more.”

***

Two weeks later, Randy and Jeanine start carpooling, and Randy gets in the habit of turning the vision implant off when he leaves the lab at night. He says it’s to keep my burn rate down, but I think he doesn’t want me to see whatever else they’re sharing besides the car.

I’m excited about our progress on the bionet, but in the quiet darkness of the lab at night, I have time to obsess over my new existence.

The SuMP is slowly failing. Actually, the perfusion is fine; it’s my brain that’s failing. The SuMP refreshes the perfusion medium with sonicated oxygen microparticles six times an hour. We have redundant power supplies, and we increased the perfusion’s O2 ratio.

It doesn’t help. I’ve seen my own readouts. The curve of the decay rate continues to steepen. Tissue degeneration accelerating. Every indicator ticks away at what’s left of my existence. But the truth is, I don’t think I’ll miss this strange variation on life. When Randy and Jeanine aren’t here, I’m bitterly lonely, and I miss my boys with every fiber of my non-existent being.

Weekends are the worst. Weekends I think and I think to keep the accident at bay. I know the mechanism—vasopressin, trauma memories—but I’m powerless to stop it.

I recite lines from Oklahoma! and Star Wars in my head. I remember snippets of books I’ve read and sing every pop song I can remember.

Randy stays later and later at the lab, sleeping on a cot in the corner sometimes. Jeanine brings him hot food and clean clothes to keep him working.

I know we’re almost there, but the SuMP decay preys on my thoughts. Motor functions fail always first, then speech. I guess I’m luck lucky not to have, not to have any of those.

***

Twenty-two weeks from Leavitt’s ultimatum, we have our proof-of-concept ready. Randy does a fancy double-blind demo where he’s in one room, and I’m in another, and the whole thing is broadcast live on vid screens in the conference room.

By Randy finishes time, our success is clear. The bionet is a reality.

The other scientists Randy’s back pounding and champagne pouring. Jeanine stands nearby, her face the brightest smile ever I’ve seen. He throws an arm around her shoulders, and they come to see me.

I want to be peaches happy for them, for us, but I’m tired. Thinking is … effort, and I have to struggle to under, understand things.

“We did it, Maggie! We made history. Who knows where the bionet will go next? And hey, look at this. Jeanine swapped out Leavitt’s press release.”

Randy holds, holds up the text of the release and reads aloud. “Allied Neuro Associates named the discovery after neuroscientist Margaret Hauri, whose work formed the bulk of the project’s underpinnings before her tragic automobile accident at the age of thirty-eight.”

Stands Randy at the monitor to see my reaction. I see my own fMRI through his eyes. Colors sparse, muted. Activity level vomit low. I should, should be on top of the world right now, but not I’m maggots not.

Randy’s face I see in the monitor. Concerned. “You’re not happy, are you?”

I hot cocoa. Wood smoke in winter. The colors on the monitor flicker rotten weakly.

Randy kisses Jeanine on the cheek, asks her to give us a moment alone. She steps outside, closes the door.

“Is it the Connectomics thing? You know I won’t let them do that.”

trash juice gag brown rotten grass clippings

“This is bigger, isn’t it. Not just the discovery?”

I weak yeskittens, but, but complicated the answer.

Randy draws up a chair. Swings a leg over. Rests his chin on the back, dials 02 to MAX. He speaks to the monitor, my proxy.

“Talk to me, Maggie. We should have a couple of weeks left. Where we going next? You wanted to take on Alzheimer’s. Are you in?”

Helps, the 02. Days, maybe—not weeks. There’s a maggots flicker of yellow in my anterior insula. Hard even to say ‘no’ anymore. The crux of, of it, really. Brownies, vomit. Binary existence. Someone else’s control. Don’t want it. Notvomitnot.

Randy’s voice deathly quiet goes. “Mag, you leaving me? Is that what this is about? You want to end it?”

Hot blueberry waffles with real maple syrup and fresh, melting butter. Wish I could explain to Randy. Hauri Net his project now. Stories I read as a girl, clones, cyborgs, space liners. Randy and Jeanine—theirs now.

Off takes Randy his glasses, eyes wiping breaks his voice. “It’ll be fast, Maggie. I’ll just turn off the SuMP. You won’t even feel it. Are you sure?”

I feel a strange lightness, a pulling-away feeling that’s almost euphoric, and my thoughts become clear for a moment. I think of burgers on the grill on the Fourth of July. Sweet corn. Blueberries and cream. I think of sand between my toes at the beach with the breeze whipping my hair across my face.

Randy’s walking to the equipment. He turns on the music with one hand, and flicks a switch with the other. The stately lilt of Pachelbel’s Canon surrounds me.

I’m sneaking sugar cubes as a girl, their edges crumbling sweet on my tongue, then sharing strawberry ice cream with the boys.

Randy picks up a picture of Dale and Zachary, in front of his eyes holds it. Dale on a red tricycle. Zachary stands behind, arms around his brother’s waist. Summer sun, upturned their laughter faces. Oh, my boys. My beautiful, sweet boys.

Shaking Randy’s hands, the picture, too, shake-shaking. Bracing on the table Randy his elbows. fading kittens the silver light

***

It was the first big storm of the season. The boys had dentist appointments, so we all slept in, and I made waffles for breakfast.

I can still smell the syrup.

Original (First) Publication
Copyright © 2014 by Kary English

 

 

2015 Nominee for the

(best short story)

 


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Copyright © Arc Manor LLC 2014. All Rights Reserved. Galaxy's Edge is an online magazine published every two months (January, March, May, July, September, November) by Phoenix Pick, the Science Fiction and Fantasy imprint of Arc Manor Publishers.