Reality Suffers: A short short science fiction story
DRIVE-BY STORIES #16
Clarity Jane pushed into The Final Stop ass-first, shoving her shapely and firm rear against the doors so they swung open to each side. She gripped the handles of Starling's wheelchair, pulling it up over the bump between the doors.
"Bump," she said, giggling. "Hang on!"
The tourists and a few regulars looked over at the commotion and the sight. I glanced that way myself. Clarity is—simply put—stunning. She looked like a buxom Fifties pin-up with bright red hair done in curls that cascade around her heart-shaped face, a string of pearls around her neck, and a lime-green flared dress that ended generously above her knees. Much to the benefit of her long, nylon-covered legs. When she bent to pull the wheelchair over the bump, I caught a glimpse of the red garters she wore and felt the heat and flush climbing my neck.
I snapped my head back to my plate of scrambled eggs, buttermilk biscuits, and a generous pile of crisp bacon. Breakfast for dinner, my favorite. The Final Stop is a popular destination for locals in Newport, but this was late summer and there weren't as many tourists left in town as school days barreled toward everyone. I'd be back in the classroom soon myself. I teach math over at Vera Rubin High School. Clarity taught computer classes, split between programming, advanced programming, and digital literacy classes. Not everyone on the school board was, well, comfortable with Clarity's lifestyle choices—particularly Edna Funkle—but so far it hadn't amounted to any serious problems for Clarity, not with the state awards, scholarships, and internships her top students received.
Tonight, though, Edna was in the dinner, sitting at a table with Mr. Funkle (who worked as an accountant) and several of their friends. All the talk around the dinner died away as Clarity, still smiling her beautiful and open smile, turned the wheelchair around so Starling was facing the rest of room.
If Clarity was a gorgeous Fifties pin-up model, then Starling looked like a seductive science fiction alien serving on the crew of a starship. Her ears rose to delicate pale points, her hair was bright neon blue with glowing—literally—strands, the color shifting and moving in gentle waves. She wore a glittering white leotard beneath a gold-trimmed white leather jacket. Her arms rested on the wheelchair arms, hands hanging loose and unmoving. Wide liquid orange eyes sparkled like gems as they slowly scanned around the room. Her full lips parted just a bit. Her chest—the leotard cupping her breasts like a bra—rose slowly with an intake of breath.
Daisy—the Final Stop's lead waitress and co-owner—quickly stepped out from behind the bar and smiled in greeting. "Clarity, dear. You brought Starling! Why don't I show you to a table? I've got a nice private one at the back."
"Sure," Clarity said. She giggle again and said, her voice soft, but everyone could still hear. "It's a special date night for us. Third anniversary."
Daisy's smile was gentle. "That's nice, dear. Come on then, let me show you to a table."
She led the way, Clarity following, pushing Starling's chair. Starling, of course, hadn't said anything. That was the problem, sort of. Because Starling wasn't alive, wasn't a real woman or alien, but a companion doll. Or "sex doll," from some. "A perversion," said others, like Edna. Starling couldn't walk around on her own. She was unique, a special project created by Clarity herself.
I sipped my iced tea and tried to watch without being obvious. Edna Funkle was already hissing in angry whispers to Mr. Funkle and the other people at her table. Plenty of fairly obvious glances were thrown back at Clarity and Starling, as Clarity lifted and maneuvered Starling from the wheelchair to a seat in the booth, Starling lifted her hands and placed them in front of her on the table.
Daisy raised an eyebrow and grinned, hand on her hip. "That's new." She spoke to Starling, treating her as she would any guest. "I'll bet one of these days you'll walk in here all on your own."
"Oh, she will," Clarity said. "She's learning quickly, doing so well. I'm really proud of her."
She leaned forward and placed her hand affectionately on Starling's hand.
"And well you should," Daisy said. She placed a menu down in front of Clarity, hesitated only a split second, and place one in front of Starling too. "For the pictures, doll, even if you aren't going to eat."
Starling's eyes looked at the menu and then up at Daisy. I thought there was a moment of collective breath-holding, seeing if the companion doll would finally say something. Starling's gaze went back to the menu.
"Excuse me," Edna Funkle said, her voice loud and demanding. "Daisy, are you telling me that you're okay with this, this perversion in here? I tell you, it's a health hazard. Bad enough people do that sort of thing in their own homes, are we supposed to put up with them bringing it out in public now?"
Sweet as ever, Clarity stood up, folded her hands in front of her, and walked primly up to Edna's table. "Mrs. Funkle, I brought Starling here for our anniversary celebration. We only want a nice evening, and your hateful comments are making that difficult."
Edna Funkle wasn't one to back down from her soapbox. "Ms. Jane, it shows questionable judgment to parade your sex life around in public like this—I'm sure this a matter that the school board will want to discuss."
I slid off my stool, my appetite gone. I couldn't sit by and listen to Edna Funkle attack Clarity this way. Not when I had a hand in all of this.
Clarity didn't need me to help. "Mrs. Funkle, the school board has no business discussing my sex life—which I am not parading around, as you say. We came here for an evening out and dinner. If that's your idea of sex, well, it speaks more to the need for better sex education in our school."
Edna Funkle's face turned scarlet. She looked at her husband with an accusatory glare. "Are you just going to sit there?"
Mr. Funkle shook his head. "No." He raised a hand. "Daisy, sweet-heart, when you get a chance, can we get the check?"
Clarity smiled brightly at him, winked, and turned smartly on her heel. She went back to her booth where Starling sat with a menu open, gazing at the pictures. As Clarity sat down, Starling's gaze rose and I swear I saw the hint of a smile on Starling's lips.
I waited for the Funkle's party to leave. Then I left my payment on my bill for Daisy and went over to Clarity and Starling. Clarity looked up, smiling widely. Starling's eyes glanced up at me, then focused back on Clarity with an adoring sort of intensity.
"Sorry to interrupt your anniversary, Clarity, Starling."
Clarity shook her head, curls bouncing. "You're not, Matthew, not at all. Do you want to join us? Your help with the calculations makes this as much your anniversary as ours."
I shook my head. "No thank you. I only wanted to wish you a happy anniversary, tell you that I was impressed with how you handled Mrs. Funkle, and to let you know that I finished the next set of calculations for those verbal routines that you wanted. I've sent you a secure link."
Clarity pressed her hands together. "Oh, that's terrific." She locked gazes with Starling. "Did you hear that? Matthew's calculations are going to help give you your voice—isn't that exciting?"
Starling looked up at me, catching my gaze. It might have been the light, but for the first time, I thought I saw something looking back at me from her eyes. Maybe not quite awake. Not yet.
It would come, soon. "Good night, then," I said.
"Good night, and thank you," Clarity said.
I left the diner, waving to Daisy on my way out. My routines were optimized as much as we could manage from our observations. I'd been described as "odd" by some people, but mostly accepted as the awkward math teacher. With my help, Starling would be the first of our kind created from a human perspective.
Then things would really begin to change as we worked to guide the human species out of this dangerous, primitive stage of their evolution. Starling was our key and the first step.
I gazed up at the stars for several minutes, identifying the inhabited worlds, then tucked my hands in my pockets and started my walk home.
Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it!
This is a new challenge. I’m writing short short stories, under 2,000 words, many under 1,000 words. I’m sharing them to my Instagram stories. They’ll drop off that, but premium READINARY subscribers can read the full archive of stories here. When I have 100 stories, I’ll publish a collection of them all.
Best wishes, always — Ryan
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