Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Borrowed Time (A Short Story)

“Benny?  Have a minute?” 

Ben looked up from his book with a squint, struggling to focus on the young girl in front of him.  Her nose had reddened with the thickened air of the summer, her eyes crusted with the remnants of sleep.  The eight-year-old yawned, rubbing at her nose, her eyes, the ooze of their joint secretions.

Ben shook his head.  “No.  No more.”

She groaned and flung herself into the seat across from his.  “But I’m bored.”

He sighed and carefully turned the corner of the page in front of him, marking his place.  “You’re not bored, Cera, you’re allergic.”

She sniffled but didn’t bother with tears.  Instead, she shrugged.  “I don’t like it.  My nose itches and no one will give me meds.  I don’t want to be 8 anymore.”

Ben stared at her for a moment, rubbing his thumb carefully against his lip, considering.  “That’s not what you said yesterday.“

“I know what I said!” Cera snapped.  “You don’t have to be mean about it, Benny!”

Ben stood and moved to the bookshelf, reaching up to pull a large glass jar from the top-most shelf.    He held it in his hands for a moment, testing its weight, trying to remember the last time he’d bothered to touch it, dared to reach inside.

The jar itself was plain, its edges thick and dull with dust.  It was filled with rocks, not the smooth river-stones Ben knew Cera preferred but rather the jagged edges of demolished concrete, mud-crusted pebbles, slivers of plain gray stone, each one a misshapen echo of the last.  He turned to look at Cera but Cera was already at his elbow, her eager eyes fixed on the jar in his hands, her lips smacking together in excitement.

“Can I, Benny?” she asked, breathless, tense.  “Can I have one?  Just one?”

He looked at her, feeling suddenly very old and very tired, every one of his sixty-odd years  pressing on his heart, slowing his lungs.  “I didn’t save my 8th birthday, Cera.”

The little girl rolled her eyes.  “Of course not!  I saved my 8th birthday.  It was winter the first time,” she grumbled.  “I should have saved that one for later.  Complete waste of a memory.”

He shook his head.  “You should have saved them all.”

She wrinkled her nose in distaste, leaning in closer to peer in at his jagged cement pieces, the crush of muddied pebbles, slivers of rock.  “What did you save?”

He sighed but, obliging, pulled a rectangular bit of rock from his jar.  One edge was pimpled with white, the rest was bleak and gray.  “The day my father died.”

Cera jerked away from him.  “What?  Why?  That man was…”

“An arrogant-“ Ben looked at the eight-year-old in front  of him and bit down on his tongue.  “He said he was proud of me.  That day.  Just before he died.”

“And you saved that?”  Cera shuddered and reached her own hand into the jar to pull out the next rock, a rounded bit of black stone the size of her pinky finger.  “And this one?

“My first day on the job with Buck Corp.”

“You hated…”

“It was my first real job, Cera.  I had a family, a baby on the way…”

Cera tossed it back onto the pile and grabbed for the next one, mottled green and easily the size of her fist..

He smiled.  “The year I turned 42.”

“42?” she asked, skeptically.

“It was a good year.  There were bees that year.  The markets had fresh peaches.  I had you.”

She sighed but did not immediately return it to the pile, rolling it between her palms thoughtfully.  “We were fighting.  About Tracy.  About Buck Corp.  We fought all the time.”

He smiled, shaking his head.  “We did that together.”

“Did you save anything happy?”

He paused, considering, then reached in to pull out another stone, this one gray and flat and veined with dull red lines.  He paused and then reached back in for a second piece of rock, dull red with gray lines and a sharp edge.  He held them both in the palm of one hand.  “The days before and after we met.”


“I like the summer.”

You don’t have allergies,” she groused and, for a moment, Ben could see his sixty-year-old wife in the little girl’s features.  He smiled, unable to stop himself.

“It was hot that year,” he told her.  “The pollen was so thick in K-tuck you could see it.”

Cera rubbed at her nose, the raw red skin beneath it.  “Don’t remind me.”

“I was 32.  The sun felt good on my skin.  I liked the smell…”  He pressed the flat stone into her palm and then looked at the sharp edge of the one he had kept.  “And then there was you.”

She reached for that stone, the red one with the sharpened edge, but he closed his fingers over it. 

“This one’s mine,” he told her.  “Keep the other one.  It’s a good day.  It’s summer.”  He grinned.  “The allergies are the same.  Nothing will be ruined.”

She frowned, reaching up with her other hand to grab not the gray stone but the green one.  The 42nd year.  She set the other stone carefully back in the jar. 

“I’ll take this one,” the girl said, already closing her fingers tight around the green stone.  Her features shifted, her voice.  “I was what?  38?”  Her tone took on a harsh edge, bitter.  Her eyes deepened.  He could hear the snap and stretch of her ligaments as she rose up to her full height, her limbs easing into an all too familiar form.  Her hair grew darker.  Lines gathered around her mouth, lines that weren’t quite wrinkles, not yet.  Her nose was still red and raw.

She looked at him, an old anger tightening her lips.

Slowly, Ben set the jar down on the desk, took hold of that edged piece of stone he’d kept for himself, felt the skin of his palm split, the warm pulse of blood, but he smiled, once again 32, seeing Cera for the first time, the dark lengths of her hair, her carefree smile, that same raw and reddened nose.  She was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen.

Author's Note:  Still a bit of a rough draft but thought I'd try some fiction today for the 2nd day of the A-Z blog challenge.


  1. Very interesting. I like reading stuff like this. I had a slightly hard time following it though so I want to make sure I have the story right: Cera is the wife with some sort of dementia? :) Glad you shared it. It was fun to read!

    1. Not dementia per se but this is a world where you can save memories and choose to revert to that day/age sort of as an overlay on your present day. Totally weird and I'm still trying to smooth the details but you picked up on a lot which is awesome and thank you so much for reading!

  2. For a rough draft, all I can say is Wow. I'd read more. Is it a S/F. Yes, I have a lot of questions, but they are fascinating characters and I'd like to know more.

    1. Oh thank you so much for your kind words and especially for taking the time to read through! :-)

  3. Definitely fascinating to read. I kept going - I wanted to find out what happened! You draw character pictures very well.


    1. Wow! Thanks! That you read it at all is awesome...your comments are gravy! Thank you!

  4. I really enjoyed reading this! I hope there's more in this series to come - I read a similar novel in which they 'traded' in memories and people became junkies to them which was quite disturbing!

    1. Do you remember the novel? Similar concept and I'd love to read it! Thank you for reading and leaving such nice comments!

  5. I love that story, well done, well written, the idea is brilliant.