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art by Alan Bao

A Stitch in Space-time

Nicky Drayden is a Systems Analyst who dabbles in prose when she's not buried in code. She resides in Austin, Texas where being weird is highly encouraged, if not required. You can see more of her work at www.nickydrayden.com.
Fina kept her aim steady. This would be the eighth time she'd watched Neil die--his face contorting in agony under the blue-white haze of the Abbey's limelight. The tight zoom of her camera caught every detail, including the wrinkles in the fabric backdrop bearing meticulously painted palm trees, the tufts of batting peaking from sloppy seams on the prop horses, and even the tremble of her husband's hands as theatrical blood dripped from the wound in his abdomen.
Neil's death scene wasn't supposed to go on for this long. Fina tensed as the unnerving sound of seams ripping whispered all around her. She worried that there wouldn't be enough time to capture the end of the play. Her entire project would be ruined.
"Die already," she said, not so quietly that the camera wouldn't pick it up, but nothing so loud that she wouldn't be able to edit it out later.
Right as Neil took a brazen fall and began to writhe on the stage, the first puncture through space-time appeared inches from Fina's face. The tear widened and lengthened into a pearlescent void, frayed edges fluttering in the chill breeze that stirred between alternate dimensions. A leeder's sleek and silver proboscis slipped through the rift, like a pin hook working its way through thick drapery.
Fina immediately shut the camera off. The leeder sniffed around, but with the bait of electronic pulses gone, it receded back into its own dimension. Fina let out a sigh. She shouldn't have risked running her camera past twelve minutes, but this was the final performance of Omai, her last chance to capture Neil's portrayal of Captain James Cook and his ill-fated demise in the Hawaiian Islands.
With the threat of another leeder infestation staved off, Fina caught her breath. She traced her finger over the cool metal casing of her camera and savored the thrill of handling such a dangerous piece of technology. Neil deserved nothing more than to have his final act preserved for eternity, so Fina tried not to imagine how close she'd come to having the leeder's needle-sharp proboscis stabbing through her skull, sucking up her brain's electro-chemical pulses like sweet nectar. Carefully, she wrapped the camera in a worn silk kerchief, then slipped the kerchief into the inside pocket of her coat. Thirty seconds later, the curtains fell on her dead husband for the last time.
Fina pressed her way backstage, holding a bouquet of roses to her chest so it wouldn't get jostled by the flurry of cast and crew. Everyone moved with purpose, like cogs in a machine. She spotted Neil in a tight group of actors congratulating themselves and hoping their over-the-top performance would earn them coverage in the Tribune. Gretchen Doyle, the female lead, clutched Neil's bicep, tittering like a twit.
"Amazing show," Fina said briskly. "Best one ever."
Both Gretchen and Neil turned. Neil's smile stiffened, and Gretchen beamed as if there wasn't a thought between her ears. "Fina! Oh, it's so good to see you!" Her arms struck out and wrapped Fina in an affectionate embrace. The smell of her vanilla and lavender perfume was so thick that Fina tasted it in the back of her throat. "Oh, you've outdone yourself this time with Neil's wardrobe."
"Thank you," Fina said.
"This must have taken you forever!" Gretchen pressed her hand against Neil's chest, running her fingers over the gold embroidery lining the lapel of his navy blue overcoat.
Fina bit back her jealousy. After all, her work deserved to be admired--a flawless replica of 18th-Century fashion that Fina had slaved over for a week, working in manic twelve-minute bursts. "It's nothing much. Just a little something I whipped up."
"Nonsense. You must do mine for our tour!" Gretchen flashed the layers of frill beneath her hoop skirt. "Can't be seen wearing these rags in London!"
"London?" Fina heard herself ask. She narrowed her eyes at her husband. "You promised this was your last performance."
Neil stepped forward. "Fina, I was looking for the right time to tell you...."
"We'll talk about it when we get home," Fina said, not wanting to cause a scene.
"About that," Neil said. "Some of the cast and crew are going out to celebrate tonight. You probably shouldn't wait up."
Rose thorns pricked Fina's palms, but she was too angry to loosen her grip on the wilting bouquet. Through the pain, she kept a convincing smile across her face. Wasn't she practically crew? She'd designed his costume and half a dozen others. They marveled at her stitches, how straight they were, how fast she worked. No one would have guessed the truth, that she'd fashioned together a sewing machine out of salvaged scraps.
"Enjoy your night then," Fina sneered. She had a project of her own to finish.
Fina worked into the wee hours of the night. She pressed right up to the twelve-minute threshold--the time it took the leeders to hone in on her camera's electric charge. She got so caught up in her work that she sometimes went over, only stopping when she heard the frightful ripping of fabric.
Neil was older than her by decades, and he'd been what they'd called a movie star before the first leeder infestation. Fina couldn't remember movies, but of all the illicit tech she'd scavenged over the years, she knew that her little camera could best smooth over their generation gap. She did her best to piece together a film from Neil's descriptions--opening credits, dramatic cut scenes, musical montages, voiceovers, and his precious ending credits scrolling up the screen, documenting the creative genius that went into the film's production.
She'd scoured all of Dublin, searching for illegal technology so that she could give him this gift--a twelve-minute movie starring him, pieced together from parts of his play. That had been her original plan, until last week when he'd come home reeking of vanilla and lavender. Now this film meant something completely new to her.
At four a.m., Neil stumbled into their home, breath seedy with alcohol, tufts of his graying hair peeking from beneath his muffed Colonial wig. "We need to talk," he slurred.
Fina helped Neil into a chair. "I'll make coffee," she offered.
She'd seen the way Gretchen and Neil had kissed on stage. The papers raved about the chemistry they shared, about how they complimented each other beneath the limelight. It was a touching moment, Fina had to admit, but deep in her heart she knew that Neil was simply not that great of an actor.
Neil grabbed her wrist. "No coffee."
"Is this about the tour?" Fina asked.
"About the tour. About everything." He turned away. "I'm going to London, and I won't be coming back."
Fina's heart collapsed in that moment. She'd suspected, but she'd never known for sure. She was hoping that she'd gotten it all wrong. She hesitated a moment, then handed him a box wrapped up in purple foil and tied up with a neat gold ribbon.
"What's this?" he asked.
"A parting gift," she said. "Something to remember me by." Fina couldn't keep the words together, and sobs slipped out between them.
"You were always too good for me," he said. He tugged at the ribbon, took off the lid, then stumbled when he saw the camera inside. "Fina! What is this? Are you trying to get me thrown in prison for possession?"
"I wanted you to have a movie again. I knew you missed starring in them. It's only twelve minutes long, but I think you'll like it." Fina flipped open the screen, turned up the volume, and pressed play. Loving Deeply, the title scrolled across the screen to an instrumental music score. Starring Neil Bush. Produced by Fina Bush.
Curiosity got the best of Neil, as did vanity. And by the start of the second scene, he had taken the device from her and had his nose two inches from the screen. It was amazing how much drama she had packed within those twelve minutes of film. Well, thirteen minutes if you counted the credits, and she knew Neil was the sort who had to watch all of the credits.
"Goodbye, love," Fina said as she pressed her hand against Neil's shoulder, but he was too entranced to acknowledge her. She left before she heard the ripping of fabric. She'd already seen her husband die once today.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

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