about the author

Elaine Medline wrote a novel for young adults, That Silent Summer, which was published by Scholastic Canada Inc. in 1999 and by Gramedia in Indonesia in 2008. The novel was awarded a starred selection of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Previously, Elaine was a health reporter at the Ottawa Citizen daily newspaper, and she currently works in health administration.

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Slight Deviations 

Elaine Medline

The guy’s eye-blinking didn’t work. That could only mean one thing—technology never works. As a default, he pulled a card key from his wallet and the green light twinkled to allow entry to the penthouse suite. Just get it over with, Allie told herself.

“Nice windows, self-dimming,” she commented. I could back out, she thought. I could ask for forty-eight hours, go to the bank legit and beg for another loan. But that would be such a hassle.

In the washroom, while she prepped, she tried to assess herself objectively. Her eyelids were dusky purple, her lips obscenely orange. I am a mélange, she thought. I am sand, ancient and soft. I am the end product of beauty. My teeth are perfect, because I have quit caffeine. Seriously, who was she trying to impress? The deal is done, the dice were thrown with abandon, she won, and she lost and apparently lost again. She should get a diploma in the college of screw-ups and throw her square hat in the air, watching it descend like a celebratory bullet.

“What’s your name?” Allie asked him. He hesitated, so she knew he was lying. “Wendall. Yours?”

She was about to say Allie but changed her mind. “Origan,” she replied.

“Bullcrap, but I like it anyway. Reminds me of an herb.”

Wendall stroked her supposed side of the bed in the same way he had petted the velvet stool at the roulette table. She wished she was wearing yellow synthetic underwear with black fringe, not ripped cotton. But polyester was an occupational hazard for a pyrotechnician because it produced sparks, and Wendall wasn’t noticing her scuzzy non-lingerie anyway.

Sex, it was just like a fireworks show, she thought. Or the other way around—a fireworks show is built to mimic sex. Explosions and denouement, with an ending that dissolves either in a satisfying or disappointing way, depending.

“So,” she said, when it was over, still breathing hard. “I guess you’re heading home soon.”

“This afternoon. My son’s in an accordion ballet tonight. I’m just here on business—aeroponics, a viable line of work thanks to all the exploding mines. My company decided to have one last face-to-face in case the war starts. Which is inevitable, in my opinion. You involved in food production as well?”

“Just eating food, not producing it. I’m a part-time nurse, mostly doing cancer research. And pyrotechnics, as a hobby. That’s why I’m here.” Shut up, she told herself, but afterward she always got chatty. “Always a pyro.” She laughed nervously.

“Yeah, the big fireworks show tomorrow. Not my thing. Good luck, though.” He smiled. His teeth seemed so numerous.

“I’ll need luck,’ she replied honestly, looking away from his mouth. “My reflexes aren’t as good as they used to be.”

“Dangerous hobby these days.”

“True. It’s gotten competitive. Huge money.”

“Good to have two careers, anyway,” he said. “Nursing and fireworks, cool. And based on how you just conducted yourself, easy for you to get a third.”

Right. Allie raised herself up on one elbow. His head looked weird, she noticed. Too flat on top. She searched for her socks that were entwined in the sheets, and he grabbed her jaw, but in a playful way. His skin was dry and layered. Psoriasis, she supposed, although there was an effective biologic med for that now.

“How come you like the casino so much?” she asked.

“And you don’t?”

“I would have liked to have won,” she said.

“You did,” he replied. “Just now.” He was slipping into his boxers. Yawning, he plumped his pillow and lay down with his back toward her. “Leave when you’re ready,” he murmured.

She should have taken his advice. He wasn’t imprisoning her, not anymore. She drew one of her fingers down his spine, from his neck down. She had always been good at palpation, no need to always rely on diagnostic imaging. But something was wrong with this scenario. He wasn’t like anything she had felt before. Not a disadvantage necessarily—she enjoyed subtle variations. Nevertheless, she had never witnessed, never heard of a disease where a person had so many parts to their spine, so many bony processes and short ribs, but she guessed the whole setup was compatible with life, not least because the guy was mobile. You wouldn’t automatically need a wheelchair. I mean, look at millipedes. Look at eels. Yeah, look at eels.

She pressed harder, investigating deeper. He snapped at her, smacking her nose with his elbow. Before she could react, he was smothering her with his hands. She tried to hit back but only flailed. She writhed against him until she felt faint, and finally, he let her go, throwing her off the bed to the floor. She took big heaving breaths. Her eyes felt popped.

She should have run out the door, but didn’t have any clothes on, and wanted to maintain her dignity. She blurted out, recklessly, “You’ve got hundreds of floating ribs. I think you have hundreds of vertebrae too. Can you slither? Just tell me. I’m curious. I’m pretty open-minded about that stuff.”

He rose slowly from the bed and moved to the window, considering the view and slipping on his watch, re-setting the time. Good, go to another zone, she implored silently.

She gathered up her clothes lying on the carpet. “I’m sorry,” she murmured, realizing how dumb it was to apologize to someone who had just loan-sharked and strangled her. She could have called 911, but Wendall probably wouldn’t let her live long enough to testify. Didn’t matter. It would be difficult to get a conviction from an eel hybrid. Different-species defense, they’d likely decide.

She headed to the bar, ordering a whiskey sour. “Difficult times ahead,” the bartender said, making small talk. That was true. Allie’s life was defined by beauty, and explosion. Something was about to blow up—maybe her own body, and then probably the world.

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