Mr. Hirsh’s Greatest Achievement
Mr. Hirsh smiled as the tiny pulse of light touched his forehead and a wall of computers blinked on. They said it couldn’t be done. His concept was so simple: everyone had a unique brain. That made his brain scan device impossible to fool. Now, every door, safe, computer, vault, airplane, car, weapon, everything was secured by his device. All it took was a simple registration.
The world was safe again because of him.
Mr. Hirsh smiled at the baby the nurse was holding. The doctor had done a good job with his sperm and some biomedical engineering. They said it couldn’t be done. Now, with the birth of his son, his legacy would continue and the world would reap the benefits of another genius.
“It’s time,” he said.
The nurse handed him the baby, then left.
The baby giggled as Mr. Hirsh strode to his desk. He touched a glossy device the size of a thumbnail to the baby’s forehead. The little hands reached up as light flashed in an almost imperceptible ray of blue. The baby cooed. Mr. Hirsh smiled.
Then all the computers sounded the raucous alarm at the same time. A display flashed across the screens: Duplicate brain signature.
This was impossible. His brain scans were infallible because every brain was different. He glanced at his son, the culmination of his stupendous life. In an instant, Mr. Hirsh’s future faded into the possibility of shame and derision. If anyone found out, he’d be ruined. He’d be laughed at. He looked around the luxurious room, and then down at the baby.
The Red Barn
As a woman in a weathered raincoat and loose jeans walked past the curve in the road, a magnificent barn came into view. Its structure was grand and imposing against the turquoise sky. It was red, as most barns are. The roof was black with asphalt shingles. A wooden door rimmed in white led to a loft under the triangle forming the roof.
The woman sloughed along, observing the barn’s detail as she came closer. Some planks showed weathered paint and others were missing paint altogether. Weeds grew around the foundation. Rusted shovels leaned against a wall. The barn doors were open, the inside black like a toothless mouth mocking her.
The woman pushed her hands deeper into her pockets wondering who owned the barn and where they lived. She wondered if it was a family like her own. She wondered if this unknown family had a son whose heart had failed giving him a place in heaven, or if they knew the joy of having a healthy child.
Tears fell to her cheeks as she picked up a rock and threw it at the black mouth. Damn it all!
A golden hair collie ran out of the barn, barking. She froze, as running was pointless. There was nowhere to go; no place to hide; no safe haven to seek. She clutched the collar of her slicker hoping the dog wouldn’t bite.
The animal jumped on her, his front paws on her shoulders and his face inches from hers. She closed her eyes as she tried to push it away, preparing for the worst. The collie leaned in and licked her face.
The woman smiled as she rubbed his neck, enjoying feeling a happy life in her arms once more. “You’re a friendly one, aren’t you?”
The dog bounded back into the barn and the woman continued her walk, the shadow of a smile on her face.
(Reprinted from The Storyside)
By Ursula Wong
“Velume,” murmured Andre. “How can I live without you?” Even from the shadows where he lurked at the back of the room, Velume’s face glowed with an unworldly beauty. Lying in the coffin, her expression was sublime, as if she had learned a great truth by dying.
Figures dressed in black entered, stayed for a time, then left, their eyes piercing the dimness where Andre stood. Velume’s husband, that dog, slid to the floor near the coffin, melting into a pool of tears. Hands lifted him, carrying him past Andre toward the door.
“Why are you here?” asked a voice, its bearer disappearing before Andre could answer.
He was there because he heard her laugh in the rustle of the leaves. He was there because his heart paused each time she looked at him. He was there because he couldn’t be anywhere else.
He remembered waiting beside the giant shrub in front of Velume’s house, longing for a glimpse of her. She’d finally appeared. She’d gasped when he’d joined her. As they’d walked, Velume kept looking back. “I love you,” he’d said. She’d looked at him fearfully before turning abruptly into the street. Tires had squealed. Her body had made a dull thud as it collided with red metal.
Soon, she would be in the earth, separated from him once again, in a place where he couldn’t see her, couldn’t talk with her, and couldn’t tell her how sorry he was that he had caused her to step in front of that car.
As the last mourner left, Andre moved to the coffin. He pulled scissors from his pocket and clipped an inch of her hair.
Even Velume’s hands, folded neatly on her chest, were white like marble, perfect in death. Andre reached into his pocket for another tool and clipped again. He adjusted the lace of Velume’s sleeve. As he quickly walked through the doorway and into the street, he caressed the skin of Velume’s finger that would be with him forever; forever together.
The Yellow Butterfly
In the dim light of a room that smelled of disinfectant, a priest I didn’t know murmured a prayer, his hand covering the yellow rosary beads entwined around Mom’s fingers. Her lifetime of prayer shouldn’t have led to this. Her diligence on sore knees should have stopped the inevitable from happening. But it hadn’t.
He asked if I needed anything. I shook my head.
“She was a lovely woman,” he said.
“You get sick and you die. That’s all there is. Faith is a waste. Prayer is for fools.”
I went to the window, raised the shades, and opened the sash. A yellow butterfly hovered over the ledge, just out of reach. When I stepped back, it flew inside.
I forgot my anger as I watched it circle the room and land on the rosary beads. Yellow had been Mom’s favorite color.
“I don’t believe in God or coincidence, but I’m beginning to believe in butterflies.”
“It’s a start,” said the priest.
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By Ursula Wong
Betty opened the door. “Get out of here!”
As soon as Stanley stepped over the threshold and onto the front porch, she slammed the door shut. She waited, counting the seconds. “Twenty-one, twenty-two.” It was a rough neighborhood and he wasn’t supposed to wait this long. Perhaps he was planning something more than their usual make-up-sex. She felt a tingle run up her spine. Oh how she loved that man. She opened the door and peeked out.
No one was there. Leaving the door ajar, she walked down the steps, half-expecting him to jump out from behind the bushes. What was he planning?
“Stanley, are you there?” She curled her toes. This is going to be good.
The wind stirred the leaves, but Stanley didn’t answer.
She went around the side of the house and even looked in the backyard. Her elusive lover had vanished. Had he run out for some whipped cream?
Annoyed, Betty stomped back inside. Two can play this game. Who does he think he is making me wait? As she walked down the hallway, an arm grabbed her around the waist.
This is it! Sex with a burglar. “Oh Stanley,” she cooed.
A gloved hand covered her mouth. Her eyes filled with the look of terror. This isn’t Stanley.
Janine’s Cherry Pie
Janine slammed the bowl down with such force she thought it had cracked. She had just hung up the phone with Gary. He was going to be late. Again. Even on Valentine’s Day. She sighed and continued with the pie she had promised him. After all, there was nothing to do but wait.
She added two cups of flour to the bowl, a pinch of salt, and a cup of vegetable shortening. As she worked the ingredients together, she wished she had used lard instead to clog his arteries. She added cold water and formed the dough into a ball. She tossed some flour onto the granite counter and turned out the dough. She took out the rolling pin and absentmindedly slapped in the palm of her hand thinking of other ways to put it to good use.
She cut the dough in half and rolled out two circles. She put one into the pie pan. Then Janine opened a can of cherries. She grated in the rind of a lemon and added a little of the juice to cut the sweetness. She poured it into the crust, added the top, crimped the edge and slid it into the oven.
The kitchen smelled like a bakery when she pulled the pie out. The crust was golden brown and a bit of cherry juice bubbled out the steam holes. She glanced at the clock. Six o’clock and he’s still not home. She considered dumping the pie in the trash, but remembered how hungry she was. She cut a slice. “Mmmmm.” Janine was into her third piece when the front door opened.
“Honey, I’m home,” Gary called.
Smiling, Janine balanced what was left of the pie in her hand as she went to the door, full well aware of what she was going to do with this.
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Jack quietly pressed against the door until the lock clicked shut. He took off his camel hair coat and sniffed, noticing a trace of her Chanel, and remembering the explosion of satisfaction that still filled him. He hung the coat up next to Mary’s, sure that she wouldn’t notice the scent. Sadly, she never noticed anything anymore. Still, he kicked off his shoes soundlessly, and crossed the floor to the stairs.
Jack froze at a voice coming from inside the bedroom. He pressed his ear against the door and listened.
“He was out ‘till after midnight a few days last week, too.” Mary’s voice.
She noticed I was gone. She missed me, thought Jack. She still cares. A second passed.
“Okay. But I need to be home before Jack gets in.”
Jack grinned. She wanted to be home so she could wait up for him. He felt warm and loved. He realized how much he had missed that feeling. He had been so stupid. She loved him after all. He resolved to be true to her this time. Only her.
“I suppose you’re right. Jack won’t even notice if I’m gone. If he does, he deserves a little pain. He’s given me enough.”
His smile faded.
“I love you, too,” said Mary. “Sweet dreams.”
Jack closed his eyes to a feeling of utter emptiness. When he opened the door, the room was dark and Mary’s form lay still on the bed. He undressed in the bathroom and quietly crawled in next to her. He put his hands behind his head and fell asleep wondering how it had all come to this.