“Gramma do it again!” the child begged.
The old woman smiled and allowed her right hand to clasp the saucepan tightly. Her spidery fingers enveloped the handle. She raised her arm, but paused mid-air.
“Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yes! Yes!” the girl squealed.
With a flick of her grey wrist, the saucepan was in the air. Her hand detached from her arm and shot into the kitchen at an extraordinary speed. A scream came from the room next door. The old woman rolled her eyes and the child barely noticed. She was too busy gazing at her grandmother in blatant adoration.
As the pan began to fall the hand returned with the salt. It hovered above the metal, the small jet at the hand’s rear end powering its flight as it added shakes of seasoning to the omelette. It finally reconnected to the woman’s wrist with a loud click. She caught the pan with her free hand. The young girl burst into enthusiastic applause and her grandmother bowed.
“Thank you, thank you.”
“Do it again!” the girl insisted.
“I think that’s enough for today.” her mother interrupted, entering the living room. She glanced at the old woman in irritation. “You gave Simon quite a shock you know.”
The child’s grandmother simply tutted in response.
“That’s not difficult Elizabeth.” she sighed. “I’ve had this hand almost my entire life, you think he’d be used to it by now after growing up with it!”
“You know as well as I do that your trick is only a recent development.” she replied, folding her arms.
The old woman placed the saucepan down on the centre of the table.
“I don’t understand why it bothers him so much.”
Elizabeth rested her hands on her hips.
“It’s dark coloured, spindly and has the ability to crawl at light speed. You know what that looks like to him?”
The old woman smirked.
“A robotic hand?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes.
“A spider.” she replied.
Their conversation was promptly cut short by the child.
“Do it again Gramma! Daddy’s a wuss.” the girl chirped.
The old woman chuckled.
“As much as I would like to pumpkin, I should probably listen to your mother.”
“Aw!” the child groaned. “Please?” she asked, making her eyes as big as possible.
“Louise, leave it.” Elizabeth snapped, knowing that look all too well. “I’m going to fetch your father. We’re supposed to be going soon anyways: look at the sky. It’s nearly sunset.”
Louise glanced out of the window to examine the atmosphere. For the moment the sky was bright purple but there were hints of faded blue at the edges, as if the corners were being worn away. Her grin faded. She didn’t want to leave but she could already hear her mother exiting the room to retrieve her father.
“Come on pumpkin, it’s time for your omelette.” her grandmother reminded, with a gentle tap to the shoulder.
Louise’s grin instantly reappeared. She whipped round and skipped towards her place at the table, promptly taking her seat. The old woman smiled at the child’s speed and held out the pan with her left hand. Her right detached from her wrist once more, grabbed the spatula from the table and scampered onto the rim of the saucepan. It firmly wedged the implement underneath the layer of warm egg and hoisted it into the air. For a few seconds the hand teetered on the edge of the pan as if it could not hold what currently appeared to be twice its body (or hand) weight. Louise gasped in awe but then it jumped onto the table and delivered dinner to her plate. She clapped again as it dropped the spatula and reattached itself to her grandmother’s arm with the usual click.
“Don’t tell your mother.” the old woman said, with a good natured wink. “Now that’s enough gawping for one day, I’m not in a museum yet. Eat up!”
Louise obediently started to guzzle down the meal and her grandmother sat at the head of the table. The old woman stared at her right arm in concern. It was no longer the bright, alien grey it had once been. The tired metal plates were rusted in corners and the gear movements beneath the transparent covering juddered almost painfully. She stroked her arm soothingly, gently feeling each metallic muscle’s heaving movement. She stopped when her hand reached her shoulder and pressed five numbers into the black keypad situated on it. The number pad lit up with neon colours as her fingers touched it, a warning message appearing on its screen.
“I know, I know.” the old woman muttered. “Don’t be so sensitive.”
The locking mechanism by her neck unclamped itself and she carefully unscrewed her arm. Louise, who had only ever seen hand removal, completely forgot about her food and gaped.
Her grandmother felt her pockets until she found her trusty screwdriver, pressed a further button to open the covering gear plates and started to tinker. It took her a full five minutes to realise that Louise was no longer eating.
Unsurprisingly, the child’s blue eyes were fixed on the lone arm that now sat on the table, twitching whenever her grandmother saw fit to touch the screwdriver to a gear.
“Hm?” the old woman replied, glancing up at her granddaughter.
“What are you doing?” Louise asked.
“Tinkering.” she replied.
“Oh.” Louise frowned. “What does that mean?”
There was a brief silence as the old woman worked and the young girl watched.
“Gramma, how did you get your new arm?” Louise asked finally.
She put down her cutlery, slipped off of her seat and walked towards her grandmother’s end of the table.
“I lost my old one.” the old woman remarked somewhat unhelpfully as she focused on the engineering.
Louise paused, slightly taken aback. She absent-mindedly stroked her own arm.
“D-did it hurt?” she questioned hesitantly.
“Not at first.” the old woman replied. “Not physically anyways.”
Curiosity took over nervous caution and Louise stepped closer. She rested her arms on the table in a rather awkward manner, seeing as she was barely tall enough to see the salt shaker without a chair. Her grandmother was bowed over the table (more than usual) so her nose was almost touching the rim of the uppermost plates. The screwdriver seemed to dance through the machinery, tapping some areas with focused intent and merely straying in others to make a simple diagnosis. The woman’s nose made brief contact with the metal. She sighed and drew back her head.
“What’s wrong Gramma?”
“It’s been overheating again.” she replied. Her left hand casually rolled the arm over. “You see that?”
The old woman chuckled.
“You’ll be inheriting my short sight in that case.”
She patted her lap and Louise promptly jumped onto it. Her grandmother repressed a grunt and pointed at the gear.
“You see where that piece of metal is?” Louise nodded. “It’s caught on part of that cog next to it.” she explained.
The child smiled. Surely such a simple problem was easy to fix?
She reached out to reposition the metal but her grandmother batted her hand away.
“Careful pumpkin! Use the screwdriver.”
Louise glanced up at her in confusion.
The old woman rolled her eyes.
“For starters, it could burn your finger off and then you’d have no need for a good old fashioned Scarring.” she chided.
Louise’s eyes widened and she eyed the arm in apprehension. The Scarring was the reason that her father was in a wheelchair, the reason that her mother had an extra finger and the reason that her grandfather – well, Louise remained unsure of what his physical defect was. Whenever it was mentioned her grandmother simply smiled and repeated the words: “That’s between me and him pumpkin. Let’s just say it certainly doesn’t hold him back.” If anything could produce results equal to a Scarring Louise knew that it was best avoided.
“I- I don’t want to be Scarred.” she whimpered, tears welling in her eyes.
“Listen to me pumpkin; a Scar can make you or break you and you have some choice in which option you take. It happens to the best of us and it’s not all bad.” her grandmother replied firmly, taking pity on the child.
The girl looked up at the old woman in curiosity.
“Take me for example. When I turned eighteen I lost my right arm,” She paused. “and my virginity.” she added with a twinkle in her eye.
“What’s virginity?” asked Louise in confusion.
Her grandmother smiled knowingly.
“Never you mind. Anyways, my arm disappeared and for a long time things were different. I felt this ache in my heart; a longing for something to fill the gap but I soon realised my Scarring could go one of two ways: it could break me, or make me. I decided on the latter - so I upgraded. I like to think of my new arm as an extra heart because all it is really is is a pump. It’s a part of me but it doesn’t define me. Sometimes a Scar is barely noticeable. I know several people who didn’t realise what theirs was until a few days after! Even if it isn’t, your grandfather is a strapping, handsome man, but you don’t define him by the size of his –“
“Mother!” Louise’s father exclaimed, wheeling into the room.
The old woman’s husband followed his son, narrowly avoiding banging his head on the doorframe.
“Etta you weren’t giving away the goods were you?” he chuckled.
“I won’t give away what’s already mine.” the old woman smirked.
Louise’s father grimaced.
“And that is our signal to leave.” he muttered. “Come on Louise!”
The child reluctantly followed him but her thoughts remained with her grandmother’s robotic arm. For a pseudo-heart it seemed disturbingly faulty and awfully easy to mishandle. For a moment Louise stood in the doorway, contemplating as she looked back at her grandparents.
Etta’s functional hand remained by her robotic one but her eyes were focused on her husband, a pleasant smile gracing her wrinkled features at his presence. He returned the look with equal enthusiasm, bending down slightly to wrap his arm around her shoulders. He whispered something in her ear and she giggled. For a split second the pair were happily in their own world, regardless of the limp robotic arm on the dinner table which still twitched.
The arm was alarmingly reminiscent of a dying insect going into muscle spasms. The girl could only stare at it in hypnotic, horrified fascination. Elizabeth returned to the room and the moment was broken.
“Louise come on!” she exclaimed. “You have to get up early for school tomorrow.”
Elizabeth walked towards the door, placed her hand on her daughter’s back (Louise would know that touch anywhere) and gave her a gentle push. The child glanced over her shoulder at her grandparents who were now waving goodbye and raised a hand to do the same. Before she could move it, she was enveloped by the enticing green glow of the portal and found herself stumbling through her own doorway. After a few minutes of presumably prolonged goodbyes, Elizabeth followed and closed the house door on the portal.
“Bedtime.” she announced firmly.
2 months later
Simon Inwood sat in the café and stared seemingly anywhere but his coffee. His green rimmed glasses, although proportional to his eyes, seemed to enhance them due to his long sightedness. Today their size was even more noticeable due to the deep bags underneath them. The dark shadows seemed to punctuate the outline.
If he took his glasses off, his pupils always appeared obviously smaller and less magnified. When Elizabeth had first met him, she always teased that he was like a fly: constantly buzzing, observing and being swatted at. He had smiled. She wasn’t wrong about the observing.
He set his eyes on a couple several tables away from him and allowed his ears to tune into the pair’s conversation. The woman seemed upset about something and the man was trying to console her, although the context otherwise was rather difficult to determine.
“Jade, there was nothing you could’ve done.” the stranger said.
The woman glanced down at her food, picking at the eggs that lay virtually untouched on her plate.
“No,” she replied. “there was plenty I could’ve done.”
He reached forwards and placed his hand over hers.
“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
She looked up into his eyes.
“She said she broke up with me for a reason.”
“Then she’s a bitch.” the man stated. “Don’t let her affect your eating habits.”
Simon smiled to himself and glanced down at his table before the pair could realise he was watching. His observing had been noticed once before and that had been an extremely awkward situation which he now knew to avoid at all costs.
He ticked off several behaviours on his sheet of paper and added another category to the chart. His daughter stared at him from across the table. Her plate had emptied of breakfast at least an hour ago and signs of boredom were starting to show. She was fidgeting and beginning to wish that she had brought a toy with her to play with. She should’ve known her father would be more focused on the people around him than what was right in front of him. He probably would’ve noticed her irritation, if he ever paid attention to her behaviour.
“Not now Louise. I’m busy.”
“That’s what you said when you bought your drink!” she complained.
“Well I’m just going to be a little longer.”
“You always say that.” she huffed, folding her arms.
“That’s because I’m getting some really interesting results.” he replied, his gaze unwavering from the strangers around him.
Louise sighed. That was another one of her father’s catch phrases.
“When’s mummy arriving?” she asked.
Finally the man dropped his gaze from their surroundings and lowered it to meet his daughter’s eyes.
“Honey, we’ve talked about this. Your mother won’t be having breakfast with us for a while. She’s in hospital.”
“Can’t we have breakfast there?” she mused. “I bet there’d be loads of cool medicine-y behaviour!” she added, hoping to appeal to her father’s hobby.
At long last Simon turned his attention to his coffee. He took a long sip from the lukewarm mug, grimacing at the temperature.
“Louise, we don’t want to disturb her. She needs a lot of rest at the moment.” he reminded. “Besides, she’s been transferred to a different hospital and the Airportal won’t be open yet.”
Louise sighed. She knew that most portals opened at 6am and closed at midnight but the swirling yellow portals were different. The information had been drummed into her at school, along with the fact that Airportals were more time specific due to the noticeable time differences between different regions of the Set. She bit her lip.
“NO.” Simon almost shouted, regretting the action almost instantly as his daughter’s lower lip wobbled. “Look honey, why don’t you take the portal home and I’ll join you later? I just need to finish up here.”
“O-okay.” Louise whispered, leaving her chair and heading for the exit.
10 years later
It seemed that little had changed. Her father still remained obsessed with psychology and little else. The only difference now was that they had both grown older and Louise’s mother was gone permanently. The pair sat at the same table as Louise, armed with a book, prepared herself for imminent boredom.
She used to try and avoid their awkward Saturday morning breakfasts but now she made sure that she attended, just for the sake of being close to her father. It was difficult to get through to him nowadays despite the fact that he fed, clothed and sheltered her.
Simon skim read the newspaper as usual before he began his observations. This time however, an article made him stop. His gasp made Louise look up, caught off guard by the surprising amount of emotion present in his voice.
“What is it?” she asked.
“There’s a convention on next week.” he said, the enthusiasm almost leaping from his voice.
“Psychology.” her father replied. Louise wondered why she’d bothered to ask. “There’s going to be guest speakers and workshops and – free drinks!”
His eyes lit up at the mention of alcohol.
“Just think about the scientific opportunity! If I go to this thing –“
“It’d be a great networking opportunity.” Louise finished.
Perhaps her father could socialise with qualified professionals who would give him realistic tips. She could picture the scene quite clearly in her head although she wasn’t entirely sure how real psychologists would react to her father’s cheerful raving about how he studies random people for fun. The professionals would probably laugh at his ideas but at least they could input some serious ones into his head. If she was very lucky, perhaps those ideas might be about what he should be spending his own behaviours on.
“Why haven’t you left yet?” she remarked, somewhat bitterly, surprised that he hadn’t taken an Airportal directly to the venue.
Simon tapped his finger on the travel details of the page.
“The Airportal timetables are unfortunate. You’d be left home alone for a week.” he said. “I can’t let your grandmother have another reason to lecture me can I?”
He gave Louise a knowing smile which she returned. It wasn’t that her father didn’t care about her, although she had to remind herself of this more frequently, it was simply the fact that he was too busy obsessing over his hobby to show it.
Simon sighed longingly as he stared at the article. Louise repressed a sigh of her own. She hadn’t seen him so full of joy in a long time. She remembered when her mother had reminded him to wash everyone’s socks. At the time she had been bed ridden but the simple reminder of such mundane details had brought a light to both their eyes. She’d said that she’d need clean socks when she got out of the hospital.
“You should go.”
He glanced up in surprise.
“I’m seventeen dad. I can look after myself.” Louise assured him. “Besides, you’re due a holiday. It’s not like they have a shortage of factory workers.”
“A-are you sure?” he asked, a look of guilt flashing into his eyes but she could tell that he was already won over by the idea.
“If the house burns down I can always phone Gramma.”
“She might leave you in there for agreeing with me but honestly, are you sure?” he asked, a look of concern spreading across his face. “I don’t have to go. I know it’s not fair to you- “
Louise rolled her eyes. A lot wasn’t fair to her.
“Dad.” she interrupted, bringing a halt to his apologetic rambling. “It’s fine. Go pack.”
His grin grew ten times larger. She wondered if his jaw was sore yet. It wasn’t used to the exercise.
“Thank you honey.” he said, rolling his chair forwards slightly so that he could kiss her on the forehead before leaving. “I owe you one.”
As he left the café, Louise pulled his mug to her side of the table. Sure enough, the man’s coffee remained almost completely untouched. She took a quick sip but it was too cold for her liking. She forced down a little of the liquid to be polite as she contemplated what she would say to shift her grandmother’s better judgment. The woman would never condemn her only grandchild to a week alone in the house but Louise didn’t see what the problem was. She was almost an adult. Besides, she would barely notice the difference.
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ernbelle: When I first started this story I was a little unsettled by all of the information that appears in the prologue, and wasn't sure if I would continue. However, I am very glad I did. The plot was very well thought out and really interesting. There were not any page breaks or markers to acknowledge ...
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