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art by Steven R. Stewart

Off the Shelf

Gaea is a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Vanuatu. Her days consist of cooking with coconut milk, reading about malaria and discussing health topics with the people in her village. Her evenings are full of writing stories longhand under a solar light.
He was an impulse buy.

Jean had examined the bundle on the shelf. It was wrapped in a light blue blanket printed with yellow beach balls. The expiry date said yesterday but it hadn't turned odd colors or rotted.
At the counter, they'd given her half off with no return option. She accepted that and brought him home.
The styrofoam packaging had cradled his head and kept it from bruising. His hair hadn't grown in yet, but the paperwork said it would be light to medium brown. His eyes would stay blue, though his skin could change by two-to-three shades. The paperwork went on to say that the small mark on his left butt cheek would mature into the maker's mark in a few years and fade by adulthood. It could still be found under autopsy, if questions arose about the quality of the product.
She'd had worries in the first years that maybe the expiry date on the package really was important, but the boy started walking on his first birthday and started making sentences a few months later.
Jean thought about the date when he did things she didn't like. His second-grade teacher assured her he wasn't the first boy to wet his pants in class. His third broken finger made her wonder if this would have happened to a full-price boy. She looked up the contact information of the company when he got an F in seventh-grade English.
The company had gone under shortly after his fourth buyday. All claims were to be filed with the bankruptcy lawyer. She never pursued.
They both aged, he into his prime and she into her twilight. She didn't think about the expiry date when his fiance left him. She pulled out the baby pictures with the mark on his butt cheek when he joined the military. They needed proof of his suitability.
When his casket came to her doorstep, she thought about the overdue expiration. Replacing faulty parts had bankrupted the company nineteen years before. The lawyer explained that the heart was tricky to get right and always broke first.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, July 7th, 2011


The incentive for this story came from my daydreams about all the technology not available on my tropical island and where that technology might one day lead.

- Gaea Dill-D'Ascoli

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