“—Good.” is the first flash fiction story I wrote, and the third ever story I’d written. I like it more than any of my novels or other short fiction. I love the challenge of fitting a full story into 1000 words, and how it shapes the narrative.
I guess other people must have liked it, too, as it featured in Flash Fiction Online twice, and also got picked up for the Best of British Science Fiction 2018 Anthology.
One final note: the ending is not a cliffhanger. I’m forever having to tell people that!
He says, “But I’m dying,” like it’s the answer to everything, like he thinks I’ll disagree.
He says it like I’ve forgotten, but how could I forget sitting in that paper-strewn office a week ago, watching dust layer up with sunbeams while a doctor dressed in immaculate professionalism emphasised the words six months to live?
“I know,” I say. Not daring to argue, yet afraid to keep silent. I’ve never been sure how to please him. The bed we lie on is too big, and the space between us stretches. Should I reach out? Offer comfort or affection? No, he hates that. Better if I don’t risk his anger.
“Just consider it,” he says. Meaning, How can you refuse my last request?
How can I refuse my husband? I don’t have an answer. He’s the one with all the answers, and soon he’ll be dead.
I lay in the dark and fail to sleep.
The next morning, we walk into the iClone superfacility. Company policy dictates that employees must double up as living advertisements, so every consultant wears the same cloned face. Everything is retro-post-modern—decor, building, furniture, staff. It’s a vacuum of culture and I’m suffocating.
“The risks are insignificant,” says our consultant. She gave her name but I missed it, too busy staring at her unicorn-blue hair. Gene fixed, not dyed. I guess somebody wanted this clone to be special.
“And I’ll have all my memories?” He leans forward. “I’ll still be me?”
“Your memories will be transferred to the clone in utero,” says Bluehair, “and your body will be a perfect replica.”
Which isn’t what he asked, but my husband is pleased all the same.
Bluehair holds out a clipboard. “If you choose the Premium package, we can utilize adaptive gene-fixing to ensure your cancer doesn’t return.”
“Perfect.” He signs the form and returns it. “When can we start?”
“Just one more thing,” Bluehair says. “You’ll need a surrogate to carry your clone, and although we do provide that service, I’m afraid the waiting list is nearly a year.”
“No problem.” He grins and pats my belly. “My wife’s already agreed.”
They look at me but my voice has fled. I twist my wedding ring until it chafes.
“In which case,” Bluehair says, “I should explain that due to clone-related inheritance laws, the majority of your assets can’t pass on to your surrogate. Even if she is your wife. Everything will remain frozen until you’ve reached adulthood. Meanwhile, the surrogate will live off a stipend and be responsible for your care.”
“Oh, she’s responsible for all that already,” he says. Jovial. Conspiratorial.
Bluehair smiles, green lipstick flaking.
It’s true. I do look after him. Cleaning his house, making his meals, running his social life. This would look great on you, he’d say, handing me a dress for some corporate dinner. It’s concrete-grey and cut too low, but Don’t you like it? You can’t turn down my gift. And I couldn’t, never did, because I’m lucky and provided for. The least I can do is wear what I’m told. I should be grateful for the swag, the lifestyle, the house. Have I mentioned the house? Everybody wants nice digs.
“She’s always wanted kids,” he goes on. Never short of words. “She’ll love it.”
I think of mini-him, growing in my belly. Running circles round the kitchen table. Having his memories, still owning every possession, ruling over me from a height of three feet—a child tyrant. Physically, I’ll be thirty years older. Will he still keep me around when he’s grown?
Maybe he’ll clone me when I get old. Each of us a parent to the other in some endless cycle of rebirth, a twisted parody of eternal love. Or maybe he’ll let me die, aged and forgotten, once his resurrection is complete.
“I understand, but we still need her express consent,” Bluehair says, and I’m floored by those words.
When did my consent matter? He never asked for my consent to marry. Just told me, Hey we should get married, and when I said, I don’t know, his answer came quick, rapid-fire: But I love you.
So it went, every decision and conversation, this single loose thread in the tapestry of our relationship. I find myself pulling it, unpicking our entwined lives. The yarn is cheap and the stitches haphazard, so it doesn’t take much.
I think you should leave that job. I don’t know. But the house needs looking after.
It’d be easier if everything was in my name. I don’t know. But you do trust me, right?
Tell that friend of yours to get lost. I don’t know. But she comes between us.
Aren’t you going to terminate? I don’t know. But I never wanted kids.
I press both hands to my belly. The baby. Did he care at all? Or was it just a momentary inconvenience? He didn’t want a child with me, wouldn’t let me keep the child we conceived. Now he wants to be my child.
Every inch of me, he owns.
“I already told you, she’s agreed,” he says, and grips the plastic armrests. Is he afraid? I suppose he should be. A year-long waiting list. If I don’t acquiesce, this is game-over; they won’t be able to do the memory transfer before he dies. Cancer wins.
Bluehair angles her shoulders in my direction. “Ma’am. It’s your choice.”
“I don’t know…” Except I do. I do. My existence has been building towards this moment, thirty long years of seeking The Answer. To the meaning of life, and to my husband’s endless questions. If only I can find the words to speak. Any words. Just one.
“But,” he says, bewildered. Hurt. The skin around his eyes has the pallor of transience. He’s transparent like glass, a human sand-timer, the grains of him pouring out month by month, and all I have to do is flip him over. Reset death. “But love, I’m dying.”
And I say—