about the author

Kevin Tadge is a filmmaker and photographer living in New York. Actually, he would prefer to be a fiction writer and, to prove this, has published stories at > kill author, The Catalonian Review, and Metazen, among other places. His favorite type of dog is the English Springer Spaniel. You might like to visit his Web site, kevintadge.com.

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The Glass Stranger

Kevin Tadge

We live in a glass sea urchin the size of a city. My mother told me that the urchin used to be connected to land when she was little. Maybe to Brazil or Senegal. But somehow it came loose.

It doesn’t float at the surface but halfway between the top and bottom. The scientists call this The Anomalous Buoyancy Problem. They’re always visiting. Taking notes. Studying. They say things like, “If one person leaves, everyone will leave.” And, “This is a very important problem for our time.” And, “Hey, get away from that.”

That’s okay though. I don’t even want to leave. My room is at the tip of one of the spines. All of my walls are windows. I cover them in glow-in-the-dark palm trees, turkey dinners, and octopi. I stare at the fish who stare at the turkeys. My best friend lives at the end of the next spine over. I write him coded messages on my walls in the shapes of flowers so my mother thinks I’m being normal.

We’re far enough down the whole day is dark. Occasionally when my room is nearest to the surface it feels like the dusk I’ve seen in movies. My friend and I usually see one after dinner. Last night was Black Orpheus. Sometimes we talk while we eat. He’ll say, “It’s like the difference between cutting off your toes and not cutting off your toes.”

And I’ll say, “I feel what you mean, but I don’t understand it.”

“That’s okay. Just take this steak knife from me.”

After the movie, we’ll go back to his room. We’ll try to guess where the scientists live and what their children look like but not in a creepy way. They probably look clean.

I ask him how often he thinks about smashing the glass of his room and he doesn’t answer. In my mind, I toss flowerpots into the air and take pictures as they explode. He tells me that if he ever escaped, he’d live in a cave a thousand miles from any ocean. He looks up news about The ABP on the Internet.

A lot of days, I think I’m in love with him. I can’t be sure though. I talk to the scientists about wormholes and string theory. They try to explain they’re not those kind of scientists. As if I didn’t know. I yell out numbers as they try to write important data. I ask the scientists about the possibility of switching brains. I’m made to leave.

I cover my window-walls with posters from my friend. I can’t let the fish see what I’m building. I don’t leave my room for a week. I have cereal with milk for every meal. I run out of bowls before I run out of food. I take a bite of cereal then a sip of milk instead. My mother takes the bowls away on the weekend. She says the way I eat cereal isn’t lady-like.

When I’m finished, I call my friend. I explain to him that what he’s looking at is an Amazing Brain Transfer-er. It transfers brains. We each wear a helmet connected to each other by a thousand specific wires. On the count of three, I turn the machine on. The electricity fills our heads and lights up our eyes. I can see his brain behind his pupils, and then I can see mine. Before we pass out, I guess that it worked.

When we wake up, I’m him and he’s me. He’s me and I’m him. Like the scene in Sixteen Candles no one else remembers. We use each other’s bodies to touch our own skin. We feel increasingly weird. I kiss myself. I taste funny. I wouldn’t kiss me again. My mother comes to my room. I make him talk to her as myself. He’s an awkward girl. Everyone is uncomfortable with themselves.

I talk to the scientists as him. They say the same things as usual. At least they don’t discriminate. I’m bored as him. He’s bored as me. I tear down the posters and the fish watch us trade our brains back. I feel so good as myself. I take a shower and enjoy the water against my skin.

They say they’ve almost solved The Anomalous Buoyancy Problem. They say we might float to the surface soon. They also say we might sink to the bottom. I’m not sure which I’d prefer.

Tonight or maybe tomorrow night, I have a dream. Our city is rolling over a massive steppe. Herds of quadrupeds run beside us. The sun on the glass is blinding. Every few seconds, a spine prisms into a rainbow. We watch for them, trying to spot the rainbows first. He is winning. Ahead of us is a city. A real city. I know our glass will shatter. We’ll fly through the air and into the concrete buildings. We’ll be scarred from the fall, trapped inside for the rest of our lives. The broken pieces will lose their sharp edges, grow mute. Some will say they remember when the city from the sea fell amongst them, but they won’t. They’re lying to themselves. Occasionally, we’ll see the shimmer of a barracuda in our sleep and find splinters in our cheeks in the morning. The splinters bleed a lot but they don’t actually hurt. Not enough for anyone to hear.

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