Two Eight Two (free read)
Quite some time ago I wrote a little post about my first attempt to write science fiction and today felt like a good day to dust off that story and present it to all of you. So here it is, I hope you enjoy it, feedback in always appreciated.
Two Eight Two
By Ada Maria Soto
The sounds of too bright drunken laughter and shouts of anger mingled to drown out the soft hum of the dirty bronze chip spinning on the bar top. The twirling color seemed to blend into the wood as John gave it another twist. The bartender had long ago moved on to more decisive customers, of which there were plenty. John looked up at the screen over the bar as the chip wobbled and fell flat. The news was on mute, but it didn’t matter. There was only one news story anymore: the Two Eight Two and the imminent extinction of the species Homo sapiens. And judging by the footage of blood soaked riots and burning cities blinking across the screen, the human species had no intention of going out with grace and dignity. He didn’t care. Grace and dignity had certainly never gotten him anywhere.
He started to raise his hand to wave the bartender over when another hand settled across his; thin and delicate with carefully manicured nails. He looked up to a woman in a dress of skin-tight blue. The dress should have been raw sex, hugging sculpted curves, but it failed against warm dark eyes, smooth brown skin, and a soft braid of deep black hair draped casually over the woman’s shoulder. She smiled at him. It was beautiful; the smile of someone who cared. As a young man he might have been tempted to write epic poetry describing that smile. A thousand words at least.
“Hello.” Her voice was sweet, with just a hint of an accent John couldn’t quite place.
“Hello to you.” He tried to find the old smile women used to find charming, while leaning in close so he wouldn’t have to shout.
“What’s that?” The woman gestured towards the chip laying were it fell on the bar top.
He has forgotten it for a second, distracted by beauty. “That is a chip that says I managed to stay sober for two years and I’m about to throw it away. Would you care to join me?”
The woman’s smile faltered. “You shouldn’t do that. Not today.”
John removed his hand from under hers. Any other day he might have cursed at her, sent her running, told her to save her pity, but she was the first person to make any effort to speak to him in months. “Miss, do you know how long I’ve been sober?”
“Two years, eight months, and two days. Two Eight Two, the end of us all. Today is the perfect day to start drinking again.”
She leaned in closer, her lips nearly to his ear. She smelled of oranges and fresh cut grass. She shouldn’t. No one smelled clean anymore. He could feel the warmth of her breath. “What if I told you I know how to survive the Two Eight Two?”
John jerked away, his bark of hard laughter snapping across the bar. Even the bartender glanced over for a half second.
“Lady, I don’t know what you’re selling, but I ain’t buying. No one is getting past the Two Eight Two. This is the end of the line. Game over. Humanity zero, the universe… everything else. Now if you don’t mind I am prepared to die the same way I lived. Drunk.” John waved the bartender over turning away from the woman in blue, her scent of living things still lingering in the air around him. “Vodka martini, stirred, plenty of vermouth and two olives.”
“Make that two.”
He looked over to the woman who was, somewhat surprisingly, still there.
She smiled that same caring smile that begged for poetry and art. “You did ask me to join you in a drink.”
“I guess I did.”
The drinks arrived quickly. John looked at the clear liquid just slightly clinging to the inside of the glass. He could smell the vermouth and olives. He looked inside himself. He’d fallen off the wagon before, usually with a large, hateful crash into a deep canyon of pathetic misery and self-pity, but this time he felt nothing. No disappointment, no self-loathing, no anger for himself or the pretty girl by his side, he was ready to take that first drink just as he was ready to die with the rest of humanity.
He raised his eyes to the woman in blue and lifted his glass in a silent toast. Then he tipped his head back and drank.
Long pathetic experience had taught John to get an idea of his situation and surroundings before opening his eyes to the light that was trying to press its way through his lids. He knew his head ached, that was a given. He was lying on his back, which was somewhat unusual. His skin felt damp and sticky like he’d been laying in a puddle of something. Not good but not the first time. But he was fairly certain he was wearing pants, which was a plus. He tried to sigh in relief then realized he couldn’t. He snapped his eyes open then squeezed them shut against the light as panic set in. He had a tube in his mouth, he had a tube going down into his lungs. He could feel it pushing air in and sucking it back out. He tried to grab it but his arms didn’t respond. They just twitched half dead at his sides.
‘Do not be alarmed,’ a pleasant sounding computerized voice said from somewhere.
He tried to kick his legs but they were about as responsive as his arms.
‘You have been in suspended animation.’
He wanted to scream at the voice but the tube was still in his lungs.
‘You have been chosen by the Committee for the Ark Project. As a result you have been placed into suspended animation. You may find you have muscle weakness, limited coordination, blurred vision, vomiting, and headaches.’
‘It’s called a hangover,’ he tried to yell.
‘These are all natural reactions. Do not be alarmed.’
John’s vision was starting to clear, allowing him to glance around. He was in a white plastic tube, not much bigger than a coffin. The walls were dripping with something thick, clear, and slimy. Raw, blind, panic took hold. His heart raced beyond anything he had ever experienced as desperation set in.
‘Please exhale and your oxygen tube will be retracted.’
He tried to exhale. The tube was pulled from his lungs with a long slurping sound, leaving his throat scraped and raw. The tube vanished into a sliding panel above him.
‘Please breathe slowly and deeply. A revitalization specialist will be in to see to you shortly.’
He took a deep breath. “I’m claustrophobic!” he tried to scream. “Get me the fuck out of here!”
John slumped into the first of the hard folding chairs he could reach, barely focusing on the thousand other people around him. The walk from the recovery center to the assembly hall had been brutal, all five minutes of it. If he wasn’t so weak and exhausted, he’d be angry. He, and apparently a few thousand other people, had been attempting to get answers for the last week. The only thing the very helpful and pleasant staff would tell them was that everything would be explained once everyone was more or less back on their feet. There would have been revolt if anyone could raise their arms for more than 30 seconds.
The stage at the front of the hall had a small podium and a large screen. It felt a bit too much like a school assembly day and he started to worry that he was going to realize he was naked then wake up screaming, but not before his grandmother showed up wearing a banana costume. A tidy little man with a cheery smile approached the podium. John sat up as much as he could.
“Good morning everyone.”
The perkiness of the man’s voice grated in John’s ears. As far as he was concerned he still had the mother of all hangovers. He’d shaken off full blown alcohol poisoning quicker than this suspended animation bullshit.
“My name is Jacob and I am here to answer as many of your questions as I can. I know you are all still feeling a little under the weather. I’ve been there myself, so I will try to keep things as quick and to the point as possible.”
“What the hell is going on?” someone from the crowd managed to shout. A thousand other people tried to shout their own questions but it was more a wave of groans and mumbles drowning each other out.
Jacob clasped his hands politely behind his back until everyone ran out of energy, which took about 45 seconds. “Please, let me give you my little talk and then I will endeavor to answer any remaining questions you may have.” The audience just nodded weakly.
“Good, let us start from the beginning. I’m sure the last thing most of you can remember is the Two Eight Two. For the vast majority of the world the Two Eight Two came as a surprise. However, there was one group prepared: The Committee.”
A logo came up on the screen towering behind Jacob. It was the same logo that was on everything he’d seen since waking up. To John, if he squinted, it looked like a set of stylized arched gates.
“Over a century before the Two Eight Two a multinational, nongovernment, nondenominational group of scientists and thinkers realized the possibility of something like the Two Eight Two, and that it would be a catastrophic blow to humanity.”
Murmurs rolled through the crowd. The Two Eight Two had caught everyone flat-footed and no response would be strong enough or fast enough to save humanity. At least that’s what everyone had been told in the last days. The idea that someone knew the Two Eight Two was coming and did nothing was not going to be a popular one.
“This group knew that something had to be done to preserve humanity in all its richness and so The Committee was formed and the Ark Project was conceived.”
An old photo of a few dozen men went up on the screen.
“The first ideas were primitive. A few hundred people on ice. But with each new generation of technological advance the scope of the Ark Project grew. The plan became one to preserve as many people as possible who could be the start of a new humanity. At the end, The Committee managed 50,000 individuals plus another 400,000 fertilized human embryos. And before anyone starts thinking of eugenics please look around. Their goal was not just to save people, but to preserve as much solid genetic diversity as possible.”
Everyone, including John, looked around. He was surrounded by every possible shade of skin, facial shape, and body type. He took some comfort in the idea that he hadn’t been kidnapped by Nazis. He also started to wonder what the hell he was doing as part of the lucky 50,000. His family line started with plague-ridden pig farmers and went downhill from there.
“So how long were we out?” someone called from the crowd followed by a collection of other voices wanting the same answer.
Jacob looked uncomfortable. “You are all part of the fifth wave of awakening. The first wave was scouts, followed by engineers, farmers, doctors, individuals who could build general infrastructure. As the fifth wave, you, are our academics. You are our scientists and thinkers. You can build and staff our new schools, and libraries. You can assemble the T-Rex skeleton we’ve got in a crate next to the Mona Lisa as soon as the first museum is built. And the schools do need to be built. The next wave is young adults and families with children.”
Now John knew there had been a mix up. He was no scientist. He’d nearly failed high school and dropped out of university, twice. “That doesn’t answer the other guy’s question,” he called out.
“As I said you are the fifth wave. The first wave was woken automatically when sensors determined Earth was once again fit for human habitation.”
“How long!” came yet another shout.
Jacob cleared his throat. “Twenty thousand and nineteen years.”
There was silence as the number slowly sank in. Once it had sunk the shouting started. John didn’t bother. He was still contemplating the number. Twenty thousand years. He was twenty thousand years removed from his joke of a life. From his bills, double alimony, and triple mortgaged house. Millennia way from grand expectations he could never rise to. He was free from it all. He waited for the lightening of his soul or something like that but all he felt was tired and numb. As for the rest, for a group of people who could still barely walk, they were doing their best to form an unruly mob. Jacob waited until people were out of breath and collapsing back into their chairs.
“Everyone got that out of your systems?”
There were some cranky grumbles. The woman sitting next to John was sobbing into her hands.
“Good, because we have a lot more to cover. It won’t all be fun and games. There are expectations. You will be given jobs and expected to undertake certain duties. I know most of you were taken against your will and everyone left people behind, but we could not risk the Ark Project becoming public knowledge. There would have been riots. Well, more riots. But The Committee chose all of you to receive this gift of life because they believed there is something each of you can provide to help advance humanity while keeping us from repeating the mistakes of our past.”
Now John knew there had been a clerical error. He was a mistake of the past. He had no business being part of a second humanity, except perhaps to be held up as a horrible warning. He’d already decided the woman in blue must have drugged him, or at least scraped him up when he blacked out, but she must have grabbed the wrong person.
He pushed himself to his feet. “Excuse me, what if we think we know someone who might be on ice around here?”
“There is a citizen directory you may access.”
“What if we don’t know their name?”
There was the creak of chairs as every person turned to look at him. “Do you know anything about them?”
“She was in a blue dress?”
Jacob blinked at him for a couple of second then turned back to the crowd flipping to a new slide which showed a group of people with smiling, sympathetic faces. “There will be counselors available to help you adjust to this new life. And it will be an adjustment. But try to remember, at the end of the day, this is better than the Two Eight Two.”
The afternoon sun through the leaves of a spreading oak and a light breeze were lending themselves to create a green dappled light that danced across John’s face. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. He’d been awake almost four months before he was declared fit enough to be freed from one of the arks. He’d been told that Earth now had more oxygen and his body would need a bit of time to adjust. It did feel nice, breathing air that didn’t taste of the residue of humanity. He leaned against the huge oak that sat in the courtyard of the library.
Birds fluttered in the branches above him. He recognized the one on the branch nearest to him from its twisted foot. It looked a little like a large sparrow but with a tail that fanned out and dark purple feathers. He’d named it Frank. John knew it was things like Frank that had the scientist all excited. Some things were exactly the same. An oak tree was still an oak tree but there were birds, bugs, and weird little rodent creatures that hadn’t existed when the Two Eight Two hit.
John hated the weird little rodent creatures. They scurried around trees and sat on their back legs and had fluffy fur like squirrels, but also had thin bald tails like rats. He was a New York boy. Both squirrels and rats disturbed him more than a bit and the combination of the two had pulled a yelp from his lungs the first time he saw one.
He heard the library door open and knew break time was almost up. When he’d been assigned to the library he thought he’d be shelving books, and he was. He just wasn’t expecting to be shelving a half million of them. The great unknown Committee had ordered the looting of major libraries, museums, and research centers. It was rumored there was an ark that held the Library of Congress, British Library, National Library of India, and the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. It was going to take a couple of generations to sort it all out, but the start was John, a half dozen other guys, and his half million books.
Toby, one of John’s fellow book shelvers, leaned against the oak and tipped his fair freckled face towards the sun. He twisted a small stick in his fingers that would have been a cigarette twenty thousand years earlier. “You know John, I used to love books. Devoted my life to the things. Protecting them, preserving them, worshiping at the altar of them.”
“And now you’d kill for a little crappy TV?”
“Oh God, yes! At this point I’d actually watch Strictly Come Dancing. I can’t wait for them to start unpacking the movie reels. I don’t care if they brought some of the worst films ever made. I just need a break from books.”
John stretched his back. Only a step away, some little green and white parrot-ish birds pecked at the grass like they were pigeons. Nothing on Earth feared humans anymore. “I hear next year they are going to thaw out some real librarians, other than you.”
“They’re also thawing out the children,” Toby grumbled.
“Don’t like kids?”
“I had nine brothers and sisters that turned into twenty seven nieces and nephews.” John gave a small whistle. “I could have happily gone for a very long time without dealing with children.”
“You already went 20,000 years. I don’t think you can get away with it much longer.”
The small stadium was packed, but John methodically scanned across every row, trying to take in every face. It had become a habit, or maybe a compulsion, every time he was in a crowd. Unlike most, he’d left none behind that he missed. But always in the back of his mind there was still the woman in blue from the bar. He knew she had to be part of it all, she had said as much, but he’d downed that drink before even getting her name.
He knew she could still be on ice, or at one of the outlying colonies, or maybe she didn’t even make the trip, but he knew he needed to find her. He wasn’t yet sure what he’d say, but that had never stopped him from opening his mouth in the past, and he’d always had a gift for words.
The crowd cheered and clapped as a red ball flew into the air. Toby elbowed him and John clapped as well. He couldn’t pretend to understand short-form cricket, or any cricket, but entertainment was entertainment and it was going to be another three months before intramural baseball started.
The warbling calls of the purple sparrow-things surrounded John and a dozen other men and women who had gathered in a corner of a park. It was an unofficial gathering. It could have been official. The Committee was willing to give space for any group to form. But in a brave new world where people were chosen for good genetics and an ability to contribute, people were a little leery of admitting to any fault.
John stood and wiped the grass from his hands. “Hi, my name’s John, and I’m an alcoholic. I’ve been sober for 20,019 years, 3 months, and 4 days.”
A chuckle went around the group.
“Truth is the last thing I did before all this was to take a drink. I’d been sober for two years, eight months, and two days, and I figured if there was any day to take a drink that was it.”
There were some nods of understanding.
“And when I say it was the last thing I did, I mean it was the last thing I did. There was some woman next to me at the bar, she was in blue and telling me there was a way to survive, and I guess she worked for the great Committee or something, but I tipped back that drink and next thing I know I’m waking up in a giant Pringles can with a tube down my throat. Now I’ve woken up in some strange places before but…” John shook his head and got another chuckle. He took a deep breath of clean air and looked up into the perfectly blue sky. A purple sparrow-thing flew overhead.
“The thing is, I don’t know why I’m here. And I don’t mean here at this meeting. I know that. God I know that. And I don’t mean in some metaphysical of philosophical sense. I mean here in general. I was part of the wave of scientists and thinkers but I am neither and as for good genetics… I’m an alcoholic, my mother was a drunk, my father was a pill popping closet case, my uncle Rob was part of the foil hat brigade. I lived my life as a sad caricature of my chosen profession. And now… now I shelve books and try to retroactively earn this little trip, but dear sweet god do I want a drink.”
Claustrophobia was starting to weigh down on John’s chest as he pushed through the tight group of people milling around the foyer of his library. After months of work by John, Toby, and their little team, shelving books day and night, the library was formally open. They didn’t have even a quarter of the books up, and there was an entire wing that was still being constructed, but it was decided that there were enough to start letting the public in.
Someone on the City Council had decided to make an Event of it. John found Toby lurking by the food table giving general dirty looks to the crowd.
“Who the bloody hell are all these bloody people eyeing up our books?”
John randomly grab an hors d’oeuvres from the table. “I was just thinking the same thing. I saw some of them actually touching the books.”
Toby snorted at him but John understood. He’d been granted one of the most wonderfully antisocial jobs in the colony and now there were strangers in his space touching the books he had so carefully examined, repaired, and arranged.
“It’s the bloody Council wanting to make a bloody Event out of every little thing,” Toby ranted. “All the politicians died 20,000 years ago! Why the hell do we have to revive the whole mess?”
“You’re asking the wrong person.” John was about to take a bite of something that looked like fish on bread when he saw a flash of blue fabric and dark hair in the crowd. He dropped the bread and pushed into the mingling horde, ignoring Toby’s complaints about crumbs on the clean floor.
He elbowed his way past the Council Head then saw her face. Twenty thousand years may have passed but he recognized the sweet smile and soft brown eyes and she was just turning to step out the door.
He didn’t bother to see who he knocked over as he sprinted after her. Outside the summer sun was blinding. He shaded his eyes and looked up and down the street desperate to see a swirl of blue, but everyone in sight was dressed in the light browns and greens favored by most of the colony. He took a gamble and started racing towards the center of town looking down every side street until his lungs burned.
He stopped and gasped for breath before kicking the trunk of a nearby tree. But at least he now knew two things, the woman in the blue dress was alive and she was here.
There was a banging on his door that woke John from a dead sleep. The clock by his bed said midnight. He threw back his light blankets and stumbled the few feet from his bed to the door. As a bachelor, he had been assigned what was basically a studio apartment. He opened the door to Toby, looking wide eyed and terrified.
“Do you have anything to drink? I need a drink.” Toby pushed his way in.
“It’s midnight, and I’m an alcoholic, so no.” Toby started pacing, nearly bouncing off the bamboo walls. “What the hell is going on?”
“It came,” he hissed. “My list.”
John rubbed at his face trying to wake up a little more. He hadn’t been sleeping well since the library opening and this was the first night he’d made it to sleep before one in the morning. “What list?”
An official issue tablet was thrust into John’s hands. “My. List.”
On the tablet was a list of names next to pictures of pretty faces. “Oh, your list.” Everyone of breeding age was supposed to get a list sooner or later. Some great Committee computer was set up to play match maker, working not just through personality but apparently genetics as well. It had been over a year since he and Toby were defrosted, so it was about time. “You have told them you’re gay, right?”
“Many times. They say they’re fine with that. They say they wanted to preserve all possible human diversity. But apparently they still want me to breed.”
John scrolled down the list. “There are some really nice looking women here. Smart by the looks of things too.”
“Everyone here is smart if you haven’t noticed and if you think they’re nice looking then you can choose one for me because I haven’t the slightest idea.” Toby was rummaging through John’s cupboards. “For fuck sake, if you don’t have alcohol do you at least have tea in this place?”
John grabbed the back of Toby shirt and shoved him down into a chair. “I have what they claim is coffee, and why don’t you tell them that you want to be in some sort of relationship before having kids?”
“They already thought of that. Go to the next page.”
John swiped over a page. There was a list of smiling, reasonably attractive men. “Ah. The Committee does think of everything, doesn’t it?” Toby snorted and crossed his arms building himself up to have a full blown sulk. “Okay, I don’t know about you but I haven’t gotten laid in 20 millennia. Why don’t you go on a couple of dates? Even if none of them work out long term, you still might get lucky.”
Toby shifted around in his chair. “Hadn’t really thought about that. Just saw the list and panicked.”
“And think of it this way, all of these women could take one look at your face and decide they’d rather take a roll on some sperm on ice then have anything to do with you.”
Toby smiled. “Hadn’t thought of that either, and I will gladly take that blow to the ego if it will save me from having children.”
John squeezed his hands tight around his tablet in an attempt to keep them from shaking. He stared at his List. It had been waiting for him after he’d thrown out Toby too close to dawn. He had been starting to believe he’d never get one; that The Committee had realized its mistake and was just quietly trying to write him out of the new gene pool.
There were half a dozen women on the list, all intelligent, and pleasant looking, but it was the one at the top he couldn’t take his eyes from. Her name was Anju and she was the woman in blue. He’d caught a glimpse of her a few times over the previous year but always in crowds or vanishing around corners. For a while he was sure he was losing his mind; that she was some sort of trauma induced hallucination.
He had been sitting under the oak in the courtyard for most of the morning while the purple sparrows went about their business. He was meant to be shelving the crate of biology books that had come in. He heard steps across the courtyard and looked up, expecting Toby. Instead, it was Anju walking towards him in a gauzy summer dress of blue that formed to her curves and cascaded over the soft swells of her hips.
She sat down in front of him, tucking her legs neatly beneath her. John struggled to find something to say. After a year of thinking about her, of composing epic poems in his head and never writing them down, of planning exactly what to say, his mind went completely blank. She smiled that same knowing smile she’d had in the bar.
“I told you I knew a way to survive.”
“Yes.” John was very proud his voice didn’t squeak. “Yes, you did.” he held out his hand. It trembled ever so slightly. “John.” He forgot his own last name. “Quinn. John Quinn.”
“Yes, I know. Anju Das.” Her hand was fine but not fragile as it slipped into his. “It’s nice to meet you again.”
“So…” John looked down at his tablet. “I take it I’m on your list?”
Anju grinned. “Right at the top.”
“We’re that good a match?”
She grinned at him. “Not in the slightest, but my brother is part of the computer team that sends out the lists. Things can be… shifted around a little if you know how.”
John was once again lost for words. His ex-wives and a stack of ex-girlfriends had made it quite clear that he was a drunken loser, and even sober he wasn’t much of a man. Even his own mother had said as much after a couple of drinks of her own.
“You wanted me on your list?”
Anju hadn’t stopped smiling. “I have a gift for you. Think of it as a courting present.” She reached into the cloth carry bag she had slung over one shoulder and pulled out a slim, worn, paperback book. She handed it to John.
The Scream of the City by John Quinn.
His hands began to violently tremble and he fought not to accidently crush the cheap paper. “I didn’t think this survived.”
“A couple of copies made it. That one is mine.”
He brushed his fingers over the title. The New York Review of Books had called him an urban Walt Whitman and hailed him as the next step in American poetry. The New York Times called it so much adolescent tripe. Either way it launched his career. “I wrote this when I was nineteen.”
“And I read it when I was ten.”
The answers to so many questions started to click into place. “You. You got me on whatever list. You got me here. You saved me?”
“You were already on the list of possible candidates. I just made sure you floated a little higher up it. I couldn’t see your talent die with the rest.”
A flash of anger stilled his hands. He hadn’t come twenty thousand years to have his career mocked. “What fucking talent? I’ve been a hack and a joke for decades and everyone knows it. Did you even read the reviews of my last three books?”
“Did you? The reviews of Holy Rain were glowing, every one of them.”
John had been proud of Holy Rain. It was the first thing he’d written sober for a while, but he hadn’t looked at a single review. After the thrashing his previous two books had gotten he was sure another hit would just send him back to drinking. He tried to keep up the anger but it was fading quickly under Anju’s serene smile. “That still doesn’t explain what the hell I’m doing here shelving books.”
A flash of confusion and a little sadness crossed Anju’s face. “Has no one told you?”
“No one has told me shit since I woke up.”
Her hand covered his just as it had that night at the bar. “The book shelving is temporary.” She leaned in close, her lips to his ear. He breathed in her scent, still oranges and green grass. “You are the poet laureate of Eden.” John’s heart stopped. “You are charged with the responsibility of telling us where we came from, and where we are going. You get to scream about our past and muse on our present. You get to be the namer of things we’ve never seen.”
He looked down at her hand, so soft and warm, so very alive. He wanted to somehow shrink himself down and curl up in that hand. “I haven’t written a thing in a year.”
“I thought you might say that.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a pad of yellow legal paper and a number 2 pencil. The same objects he was crouched over in the photo at the back of all his books; his writing instruments of choice, originally stolen from his mother’s divorce lawyer. “I squirreled a few pads away. Not enough to last forever but enough to get you started again.”
“Thank you,” he whispered. He picked up the pencil and rolled it in his fingers. A sense of peace slid into his bones at the familiar hexagonal shape and the slight smell of yellow paint, wood, and graphite. He ran the edge of his thumb across the cheap, once mass produced paper with more care than he had ever touched any woman.
He looked up into Anju’s face, finally giving it proper study. He took note of the tiny scar on her chin, and the first few lines at the corner of her eyes. He knew the questions he wanted to ask: why did she save him, him of all the poets in the world? What was he to her and who was she, beneath that smile and brown eyes?
“So… how’d you get this ride? I mean aside from being obviously intelligent and very beautiful.”
Anju blushed a little and John fell just a bit in love. It had been a long time since he’d known any women capable of that. “I have double doctorates in biotechnology and environmental engineering.”
“So you’re a completely pathological overachiever.”
“No, just the daughter of completely pathological overachievers. I wasn’t given much of a choice.” She ran her fingers across The Scream of the City. “The arts were not encouraged in our home, but still I read you under the covers at night. You, Ginsberg, Kerouac. You were my rebellion.”
“Those are some big names. I’m touched.”
She smirked. “Not yet.”
John laughed, sounding strange to his own ears. The purple sparrows were startled up to higher branches. “By any chance do you know what those purple birds are called?”
“Rhipidura Passer Motitensis Purpureum. ”
“Wow. Do they have a name that doesn’t require advanced Latin classes?”
“Most of the new birds don’t have common names yet.”
John watched as little Frank with his twisted foot hopped back down to a lower branch and flashed his tail feathers. He’d been watching the Rhipidura Passer Motitensis Purpureum for a year now and knew the male mating dances. “You said I get to name things?”
John raised his hand to poor desperate Frank. “I hereby dub you… a grapekoolaid.”
Anju’s bark of laughter sent the grapekoolaids fluttering from their perches towards the library. “A grapekoolaid?” she sputtered through giggles.
“Who outside our generation is ever going to know what the hell Grape Kool-Aid is?”
“Okay.” She was still giggling. “Are you going to name all our birds after beverages?”
“Well, I have been calling those green and white parrot pigeon-things mojitos.”
“Mojitos and grapecoolaids. I’ll be sure to pass that along.” Before John could make any other declarations Anju leaned in a put a peck on his cheek. He felt them burn in a way they hadn’t since he was a child. “I need to get going. Society fell and was rebuilt and still we have meetings.”
“Humans are humans. Cave men probably had meetings to discuss mammoth population management or something.”
“I’m sure they did.”
They fell into a silence that John didn’t want to break. He was still half afraid she was a dream. “Um… So… Do you want to get coffee or tea or something, considering…?” John waved to the pad with his list.
“I’d like that a lot.” She stood then leaned in close. “You’ve got my number now,” she whispered before heading back across the courtyard. John watched her go, nearly hypnotized by the soft swing of her blue dress.
He placed his list aside and took a deep breath of the clean air, trying to catch a lingering hint of Anju’s scent. He listened to the song of the grapecoolaid seeking a mate. He looked down at the yellow pad of paper and rolled the pencil between his fingers. He placed the tip on the first line and wrote… Song of a Blue Dress. He paused and moved his pencil to the next line. In Two Hundred and Eighty Two Words.