Cradles the Brain: A Book of Short Tales

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Conductivity Ep 1 (Pt. 7)

“Can you pass the peas, dear?” Stewart reached toward his wife as she handed him the bowl.

Hanna and Hayley sat in front of empty plates, having already eaten their portion. Henry’s plate sat half full. He felt no hunger.

“Henry, eat more of your vegetables! They’ve been cooking in the ChefPro all day!” Rebecca said. Her fork danced around in the air as she spoke with her hands.

Henry shrugged. “May I be excused?”

Stewart dropped his fork onto his plate. It clattered, startling the rest of the family. “No, you may not be excused. Now, eat your dinner.” Stewart glared at Henry.

Henry looked down at his plate and limply poked at a pea with his fork. He sighed and put it in his mouth. Chewing made him nauseous, but he swallowed it.

Stewart’s expression lightened a bit and he nodded at his boy. He looked down to his plate and continued to eat.

“You girls want some dessert?” Rebecca asked. Hanna and Hayley nodded in response. Rebecca stood from the table, her belly slightly more noticeable.

She returned with two small glasses of tapioca pudding. The girl’s waited for their mother to set their glass in front of them before reaching for their spoons. Very eagerly, yet disciplined, the girls ate their dessert while Henry sat in a nauseous state.

Hayley looked directly into Henry’s eyes and slurped up a spoonful of tapioca pudding.

Henry covered his mouth and gagged. “Excuse me,” he said as he slid off of his chair. He quickly walked to the bathroom, closed the door, and vomited his dinner into the toilet. Henry sat there, hugging the porcelain bowl. Sweat broke out onto his brow as he trembled. Another heave came through him. His corn from lunch came up and splashed into the water.

Henry slid away from the toilet and sat leaned against the tub. He curled his knees to his chest and cried, something he had never done before.

Outside the bathroom, Henry could hear his parents quietly speaking.

“What are we going to do?” Rebecca asked.

“I don’t know. The school already gave us a warning about him. He’s showing a lot of red flags,” Stewart responded.

Henry heard his mother sigh. “I’m just glad they didn’t expel him or send him to that military school for what he did Tuesday.”

Stewart grunted. “Yeah. I can’t believe what they told me.”

“What?”

“Well, he’s got emotions.”

Rebecca gasped. “No, that’s...that’s awful, Stewart.”

“I know.”

“That school promised to discipline and train our children.”

“Well, maybe it’s not the school, Rebecca.”

Henry felt a deep sadness, something else he had not felt until recently. Tears streamed down his face. He felt how they tickled his cheeks as they glided down. He wiped these away just as the bathroom door opened.

His father’s cold face stared down at him. “Get up.”

Henry got up. He stood, a short boy under his father’s great height. Looking up at his father, he sniveled.

Stewart’s face quickly changed. Aggression filled it. “How dare you cry in my house?” He grabbed Henry by the arm and led him out of the bathroom.

“That fucking school is going to pay for this,” Stewart mumbled as he passed a wide eyed Rebecca.

Stewart marched a terrified Henry to the corner of the dining room. “Put your nose on the wall, and don’t take it off.” Stewart shoved Henry into the corner and pushed his head into the wall hard enough to make his eyes water. He grabbed Henry’s arms and pulled them behind his back. “Clasp your hands and stay like this.”

Henry followed orders. His chest hitched, and he involuntarily sobbed. Tears still wet his face.

Stop crying!” Stewart screeched at him.

Henry’s body trembled as his legs barely held him up. An overwhelming tsunami of sadness washed over his brain. Having never felt this way before, Henry panicked. His face contorted, from smile to bared teeth to frown. His muscles spasmed and Henry collapsed. His body convulsed on the hardwood floor as his family watched.

Hanna watched her teacher. She absorbed the information given to her and bled it out onto the paper in front of her just as she was told. Her mind was clear, save for the teacher’s voice.

Hayley watched her teacher as well. She waited for one-sixteen to see her twitch. She wondered if it would be the neck or the hand this time. Worried the teacher would notice her free thinking, Hayley put her attention back to the lesson.

Henry watched Ms. Jenkins shakily write on the chalkboard. Makeup coated his face. His mother had painted him up, her attempt at hiding the consequences of his emotions.

Henry felt trapped. He finally understood the use of this school. He knew his parents were different, they showed some emotion. He bounced his knee as he thought, something that he never wanted to do before. He was different than these kids. The generation before them was disciplining them to an extreme and he didn’t know why.

“B12,” Ms. Jenkins called out. “Stop bouncing your knee.”

Henry quickly stopped, raising his eyebrows.

Ms. Jenkins coldly looked into Henry’s eyes. “Think about the consequences, young man.” Her eyes gleamed.

Henry forced his face to lose all expression. His chest hurt, but no one would tell him why.

Hanna and Hayley lay on their bellies in the dining room. Their coloring books sat before them. Hanna was coloring a robotic vacuum, the latest BristleMaster, and Hayley colored a ChefPro. The books had come from their father’s work as promotional items. They colored in like printers, one horizontal line at a time.

Henry lay on his bed in his room. His blank eyes stared at the tree trunk outside his window. The blossoms had fallen off long ago, leaving behind dark, bitter cherries. His breaths were shallow and even as if he were asleep, but his eyes were wide open.

Things relayed in his mind. He tried to shove emotions down, but had no such luck. Thinking back to school the day before, Henry realized how beautiful some of the girls in his classes were. He realized how sad the school made him feel and how happy being outside made him.

Feelings blossomed inside of him, growing stronger each day. He had felt so empty before learning what being human is like.

Hayley continued to color. Her crayon slipped outside the line, leaving a small mark outside of the hometech’s ink boundaries. A heat rose in her core. Anger flooded her brain, corroding her conditioning. Before Hanna could notice, she straightened her face and continued coloring.

“Stewart!” Rebecca called from the backyard.

Stewart came running from the living room. “What’s wrong?” he asked from the backdoor.

“There’s a dead frog in here!” She held up the pool’s disposal canister.

“Dead?” Steward crossed the patio and walked onto the fake turf in his socks. He stood on the concrete next to Rebecca, feeling the heat soak up into his feet. He peered into the dark container, and there sat the dead frog sprawled on its back. “Huh.” He put his hands on his hips. “Maybe it suffocated?”

“I don’t know.” Rebecca shook her head. “You take it out to the trash though.” She handed him the canister and walked to her chair. She untied her cover and slipped it off. She looked over to Stewart who already walked off with the disposal.

Inside, Hanna braided Hayley’s hair back, something taught to them only as a way to keep their shoulder length hair off of their faces. Henry had pulled a chair to the front window and watched cars go by. He knew the neighbors’ schedules. Tina got home at five-thirty. Robert walked his dog around six in the evening. Julia went for a run at about seven each night.

He sat slumped in his chair, not in his usual straight-backed posture.

“Sit up!” Stewart called from the backdoor.

Henry quickly sat up. He heard his father walk toward him, stop behind him, and move on to the living room.

Henry sighed when his father left the room. He heard Hayley snicker from the floor. Hanna followed soon after. Henry slid off of his chair. He placed it back at the dining room table and left the room. A few minutes later, he came out in his bathing suit with a towel in hand .

“Where are you going?” Hayley asked without looking up from the floor.

“To go swim,” Henry flatly spoke.

Hayley snapped her eyes up to her brother. “Mom and dad said you can’t go swimming right now.” She twisted her lips to the side.

“Well.” Henry stood in place, looking down at his sister. “I want to go swimming.”

Hanna and Hayley both scoffed, pulling their heads back in disbelief.

Want?” they said in unison.

“Yep.” Henry turned on his heel and walked outside.

He walked over to the chair next to his mother and set his towel down. Rebecca didn’t hear him over the music from her speaker.

Rather than slipping in and going for a quiet swim, Henry walked over to the diving board. He stood up on it and bounced once. Rebecca quickly sat up, knocking her sunglasses to the ground.

Hanna and Hayley stood at the backdoor, watching their brother from behind the screen.

Hanna saw the remote in Hayley’s hand.

Henry bounced a second time, getting higher.

Hanna saw Hayley’s hand tighten on the remote.

Rebecca looked at her son in disbelief. His disobedience was not to be taken lightly.

Henry bounced a third time. His body seemed to float above the water for a few seconds. His heart soared higher than his body ever could. He felt the most emotion he had ever in his whole lifetime. He felt so free.

Hayley pressed the button.

Henry’s body crashed into the water.

He felt the pulse on impact. His body sunk into the deep end, convulsing. Henry looked up through the water, seeing the sun shine through the blur. He closed his eyes as his lungs filled with water.

Rebecca stood up, anger flushing her face. She tried to keep it down, to repress it.

Henry if you don’t get out of that pool now, I’ll send you off to military school!” Rebecca’s voice came out in a shriek.

Stewart came running to the backdoor in time to hear her yell and to see the still moving water.

Hanna and Hayley ran outback. Hayely set the remote on the back table. They looked into the pool just as the net deployed.

Rebecca looked confused.

The net connected with its tracks and slowly glided through the pool, finally making contact with Henry’s body.

Stewart ran over to the pool, he looked in at his son’s body floating in the water.

“Why hasn’t he gotten out yet?” Rebecca asked.

“Because he’s dead,” Hanna said.

Hayley, Rebecca, and Stewart snapped their heads to look at Hanna. She stared into the pool, watching the net struggle to pull Henry’s body.

“Shit,” Stewart said under his breath.

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