Aphelion Issue 293, Volume 28
September 2023
 
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Looking for Tush

by Dave Steinman




I said Lord, take me downtown
I'm just looking for some tush.
                            -ZZ Top


It was a relatively non-descript house, on a quiet street in a small city existing in the shadow of a much larger metropolitan area. He didn't know what the place looked like inside. He'd never even been up the walk or on the porch, except for that one Halloween. She had been home that night. He remembered that she had smiled and laughed at his stupid costume. Not maliciously, but gently, as was her way. As he walked by the house, he peered up the driveway and over to the front door. Sadly, as was the case so many times in the past, she was nowhere to be seen. He wondered if perhaps she was inside, if she might see him through the window and come out to talk. He walked by the house quite often, always hoping for the same thing. The fact that it had never happened, not even once, didn't deter him from taking that route home whenever possible, always hoping that maybe, just maybe, today would be the day.

A city bus glided slowly past. He knew it well; even though it wasn't the one that took him closest to home when he was coming back from downtown. It was the one that went by her house, and since it added only a few extra minutes to his trip, he rode it frequently, just in case. He never saw her on it, but he knew she must take it just the same. Her high school, unlike his, was located close to downtown, not here in the South End. The bus chugged to a stop at the corner, across from the Waterloo School. Neither of them had attended this particular institute of learning, even though it was closer than the elementary school they both used to go to. It was a small, one story brick building, built for special needs children. After hours, the Waterloo was predominately used as a hangout by neighbourhood kids, who also didn't spend their daylight hours there. They would congregate by the swings in the evening to plan out their glorious futures, smoking and swearing and generally just being loud, as most teenagers are. They would talk about how they couldn't wait to get out of this boring little town and hit the big city. Some would eventually give up on that dream and stay, because it was safe and secure, and because it was all they knew. Some would get out, only to come back many years later, after the big city turned out to be not at all what they had imagined.

The doors of the bus opened and disgorged the usual coterie of humanity: mother's with shopping bags and gurgling babies, the inevitable elderly man gingerly making his way down the steps to the street, teenagers like himself on their way home. The passengers dispersed in their various directions and as they did, one lingered near the bus stop, peering into a small purse and then turning in his direction. His heart leapt.

Although they hadn't actually spoken in over 3 years, he recognized her immediately. After public school, she had gone on to St Paul's Catholic, while he had followed most of his neighbourhood friends to Adam's Wood Collegiate. Their paths had not crossed since, despite his repeated sojourns past her house... until now. She was dressed in white, and the setting sun on her back made it appear, to him anyway, that she had descended to earth like some sort of angel on a mission of mercy.

As they approached one another, he detected a look of recognition on her face. She swept past him quickly, but not before flashing the smile that had totally captivated him once upon a time. A quick "Hi, Peter." and then she was gone. As she continued her way up the street towards her home, Peter vaguely thought to himself, well stupid, there she goes! This is the moment you've been waiting for. Don't just stand there. Do something! So he did.

"That's it? That's all I get?" he called after her as she strode away. "A flash of a beautiful smile and a 'Hi, Peter.' Not even a minute to chat?"

She turned as she walked and called apologetically back to him. "I have to get home. I'm late already."

She smiled as she said it, and he hoped it meant she would like to stop and talk, but really couldn't.

"Well, I got no place to go in a hurry. When you come back out, I'll be over at the school."

"I don't know if I'll be able to. We'll see." She waved a sad little goodbye and made her way further up the street and finally onto her front lawn and out of sight.

It occurred to Peter at that moment that he could very easily have followed her home instead of yelling up the street after her, but that wouldn't have left him nearly enough time to say all the things he wanted to. Perhaps it was better this way. Now the question was how long should he wait? He wasn't lying when he told her he had no place to go. It was Saturday, and his parents had told him they were going out for the evening, so there was no rush to get home. He had all the time in the world. But he figured if she didn't show up in an hour or so, she wasn't coming. So he turned reluctantly and proceeded westward to the school swing sets to wait.

Her name was Talia Rush, but everyone just called her Tush, just like in the ZZ Top song. She was, in Peter's mind, the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. If there was ever a name that fit someone so perfectly, that combined playfulness and fun with an undeniable sweetness, it was Tush. Even as young as he was, Peter knew it was more than just a simple schoolboy crush. He had experienced a couple of those even before he met her, but all of them had faded with the passing of time, except for this one.

They had first met over six years ago, when his father's company had transferred him here. It didn't take him too long to figure out that he didn't fit into this place. The town they had come from was much smaller than his one, and he had spent a good part his early childhood there. He was well liked by his friends. They had all grown up together and because of that, they didn't judge one another. It was a happy time in his life. It all changed when they moved here. Suddenly, he was "the new kid"--an outsider, and being the slightly introverted, shy young man that he was, he didn't make new friends easily. He was an easy target for bullies and so he kept to himself much of the time. As for girls, he could never seem to overcome the awkward feeling he felt when he was around them. Young girls can be particularly cruel, especially it comes to belittling adolescent males coming to grips with their raging hormones. Peter chose to avoid having his ego crushed by keeping mostly to himself, even more so in the last year.

Plunking himself down on one of the leather swings in the schoolyard, Peter lit a cigarette and proceeded to pull a magazine from his backpack. As he flipped through the pages, skimming over the various articles extolling the virtues of the next big thing in rock and/or roll, his mind began to wander. What if she actually did come out to talk to him? Sure, he had thought about what he wanted to say to her, almost daily, but he never actually figured he'd ever get the chance. After a few more articles and few more smokes, he peeked at his watch. 45 minutes. Dejectedly, he stubbed out his cigarette, stuffed the magazine back into his pack and rose from the swing set.

As he was about to make his way out of the schoolyard towards home, a lone figure emerged from behind the house on the corner. Turning towards the school, she paused briefly and then began to make their way in his direction. It didn't take long for Peter to realize who it was. As Talia Rush shyly made her way towards where he was standing, Peter noticed a hint of a smile playing across her lips.

"Hi, Peter. Sorry I couldn't talk before," she said. "I had to get home and clean up my room. My mom said I couldn't go anywhere until it was done."

She made a face that on anybody else would have come across as a sneer. In Peter's eyes it was the most adorable thing he had ever seen.

"But I'm here now," she continued brightly. "Let's catch up."

Shaking himself out of his momentary reverie, Peter gestured toward the swing set.

"Well then, why don't we step into my office?"

As they made their way towards the swings, Peter marvelled at how utterly comfortable he was around her. If this had been any other girl, especially one he felt this strongly about, he would have been a wreck, a complete fool, stammering and sweating, trying to force out some comment or bit of small talk that would probably come out horribly wrong and make him look like he should be going to Waterloo, not just hanging out behind it after hours, but with Tush it was different. He felt completely at ease around her, with no uncertainties about what or what not to say.

"It's been a few years, hasn't it?" he began. "I think the last time I talked to you was at grade eight grad."

"Yeah, I think you're right," she replied. "It's hard to keep in touch with people when you all go off to different schools. You went to Adam's Wood, right?

"Yeah," he replied, sounding thoroughly unimpressed. "A fine institution, churning out Rhodes Scholars right and left."

She slapped his shoulder lightly. "Oh, stop it. It's not that bad, is it?"

"Nah. It's okay. I just don't fit into the whole high school clique thing. Besides, it could be worse," he continued with a mischievous grin. "I could be going to a catholic school."

She slapped him again. "Stop it."

"So, how are the Catholics treating you, anyway?" he ventured.

"It's okay. You still go to church, don't you?" she asked.

Peter shifted uncomfortably in the swing. "I'm about done with the whole church thing. I still go to please my Mum, but I don't foresee it being a major part of my life going forward, ya know?"

"Do you still believe in God?" The look in her eyes as she asked the question was one of both curiosity and concern. He understood. He knew her family was deeply involved with the church, and he reckoned it would trouble her greatly if he told her he did not.

"I still believe in a higher power, whether that's God, or fate, or whatever. It's just that I've just come to realize that organized religion isn't something I'm keen to pursue as I get older."

A look of relief came over her and he continued.

"I see you in church sometimes."

"Really?" she replied. "How come you've never said hello?"

"It's church, Tush. I don't want to incur God's wrath by trying to pick up chicks in a house of worship. I mean, I may not be very religious, but I still don't want to go to hell."

She feigned shock, and then stifled a giggle that made his heart melt again. What was it about this girl that made him feel the way did? It was definitely a physical attraction, but it wasn't sexual. He had, surprisingly, never thought of her in that way. Probably because when he had first fallen for her, he wasn't even old enough to know what sex was. Now, in her mid-teens, she was slim, neither petite nor overly buxom or curvy, but her physical attributes were not what attracted Peter. Along with that amazing smile, it was her calm grey-blue eyes that made his head spin. They sparkled when she smiled, always framed perfectly by beautiful shoulder length light brown hair. Peter recalled a phrase from one of his history classes about Helen of Troy. "A face that launched a thousand ships." It seemed to him a very apt description.

"Ya know, there's something I've always wanted to ask you," he continued.

"Yes?" she replied, clearly intrigued.

"Who gave you the name Tush? I mean, we only met a few years ago, and I've always heard you called that. Was it your family, or someone at school?"

"Actually, it was... "

"It's a beautiful name, by the way," he interrupted.

"Thank you." He detected a faint blush as she continued.

"As I was saying," she said, turning to face him with a sarcastic raised eyebrow, "It was Bernadette Collins. I think it was grade one or two. She had a hard time pronouncing Talia, so she just put the "T" on my last name, and it stuck."

"I have to remember to thank her for that next time I see her," he said. "Do you remember the first time we met?" he continued.

She thought for a second then shook her head. "I'm sorry, Peter, but I don't."

"That's okay. To be honest, I can't either. It's not important anyway. There is another day, though, that I do remember very well."

"Which one's that?" she replied, clearly interested.

This was it. The moment he had been rehearsing in his head forever. You've gone over this a hundred times, he reminded himself. Make it good.

"Do you remember when we were in the same class together back in grade six?" he began.

"Sure," she replied. "We were on the track team, too."

"That's right, and at the end of the year, Mr. Johnson let us have a little party in the gym to celebrate."

"I remember," she said coyly.

He was taken aback slightly by her answer. "You do?"

"I do," she continued. "I remember you sitting there at the side of the gym, looking kind of lonely. I wanted you to ask me to dance, but you never did."

He wasn't expecting this. Not in a million years was he expecting this.

"I... I wanted to," he stammered, "but then I saw you dancing with Mark O'Reilly. You had this look of utter contentment on your face. It was..." he stopped to collect his thoughts.

"I'll be honest. Before that, you were just another girl in my class, but that moment changed everything. I literally walked home in a daze. For the rest of that year, I couldn't stop staring at you."

"I know," she said, "but why didn't you ever say anything?

"What was I supposed to say? Hey, Tush! Guess what? I've fallen hopelessly in love with you. Let's get married! I mean, I was ten. I didn't know how to talk to girls. Hell, I still don't."

"You're talking to me now," she said reassuringly.

"I guess I am," he said, "and you'll never know how much it means that I could finally tell you how I feel.

"I kind of already knew, and I'm flattered. You're very sweet, you know."

"There's a 'but' coming here, isn't there?"

"I'm sorry. I've kind of been going out with the same guy for about a year. I really like him... a lot. Maybe if I wasn't things could be different, but... "

"And there it is... " he interjected.

"I'm sorry, Peter."

"It's okay. I'm glad you're happy, and now you know." He let out a small sigh and steeled himself for what was to come next.

"And now that you do, there's something else I want to tell you."

She cocked her head slightly. "Okay," she said hesitatingly.

"About a year and half ago, I was in an accident... a pretty bad one, actually."

A look of concern came over her face. "What happened?"

"I was walking home from a friend's house. I stepped out from behind a parked car to cross the street and got hit. They took me to the hospital. They didn't think I was going to make it."

"Oh, Peter. I'm so sorry. I didn't know, but you're okay now, right?"

"There was a doctor," Peter continued. "He heard about what had happened, and he contacted my parents. He said he could help."

"Help? How?" she asked.

"I'll show you," he said "but before I do, you have to promise me you won't tell anyone, and that you won't be freaked out."

She looked nervous, but nodded reluctantly.

Peter pulled up the sleeve of his jacket, and touched the fingertips on his left hand in the sequence the doctor had taught him. A small square of skin on his foreman flipped open, revealing the circuitry underneath. The look on her face was not what he expected. He assumed she would be shocked, even horrified. Instead, she gazed at his arm with a look of wonder and amazement.

"Is that real?" she said excitedly. "I mean, is your whole arm like this?"

"It's a more than just my arm, Tush."

She looked puzzled. "I don't understand."

"The doctor who contacted my folks was more than just a doctor. He was a scientist who specialized in artificial intelligence."

"You mean like robots?"

"His work was light years ahead of just simple robots. He was working on bio-mechanical constructs that combined living flesh over circuitry."

Tush held his hand, first looking down at the square of circuitry, and the up into Peter's eyes.

"You said it was more than just your arm. How much more, Peter?"

"Doctor Arakpo's work didn't just involve the body. He also had made great strides with the human brain as well."

"Wait... are you saying... " she stopped

"I was on life support. There was nothing anyone could do for me. He came to my parents and offered them a chance to save their only child. They accepted... and, as you can see, it worked."

She stared at him incredulously. "This is just so much to take in," she said. "I don't how to process this. It's so... "

"Unbelievable?

Searching for words, she simply threw up her hands and nodded. Getting up from the swing set, she took a few steps away from him and stood for a long time staring at the back of the empty school, finally turning once more to face him.

He rose and took a few steps towards her, half expecting her to back away in revulsion, but to his surprise, she reached for his hand again, shifting her gaze to the square of open skin, then into his eyes. She gently squeezed, and quietly asked.

"So... are you still... Peter?" Again, her calm demeanor in the face of this stunning revelation astounded him.

"For all intents and purposes, yes, I am," he said. "My brain engrams were transferred to this body, so everything that was Peter... his memories, his feelings... " He looked deep into her calm grey eyes, "They're all here. I'm still me. Just... different."

"Are you... happy?" she asked.

"I'm fine," he said. "Considering the alternative, I'm thankful every day that I can still experience a sunrise, or laugh, or cry. Mum and Dad still treat me the same. They know their little boy is still alive, even though my body's now circuits and wires, not flesh and blood. It's what's up here that makes a person who they are," he said pointing to his head. "And like I said... I'm still here."

She considered this for a moment.

"So, how does this work? I mean, does this body grow and change, or will you be a teenager forever?"

He smiled at her concern. "Actually, I'm leaving in a few weeks to work for Dr. Arakpo. Hopefully, he'll be able to create an adult version of this body in a few years, and maybe someday, I'll be able to live a normal life... relatively speaking of course.

"Do you think you'll ever be able to come back here?" she said hopefully.

"I don't know. Dr. A. doesn't think the world is ready for this kind of thing yet. It may be a long time before something like me... "

"Someone," she said. "Some-ONE."

"Right," he said. "Someone... like me is accepted by society.

"But why wouldn't they? I mean, it's like you said. You're still Peter. You're just different.

"I think you just answered your own question. It's because I'm different. People are scared of things they don't understand.

"Well, I'm not," she said assuredly, "and I think you're going to be just fine."

She flashed him that unforgettable smile and gently kissed his cheek.

Peter sighed dejectedly. "I wish you hadn't done that," he said.

She looked perplexed. "Why, Peter?"

"Because it makes what I have to do next that much more difficult."


* * *

As twilight fell on the empty schoolyard, he cradled her lifeless body in his arms and considered what he had just done. He had to do it, he reasoned. If only she had told him that she felt the same way about him as he did about her, things would have been different. He would never have told her about what he had become. At least not right away, but when she rejected him, Peter knew his only course of action was to tell her the truth, which meant she could not live to tell anyone else. He wished she had run. It would have made what came next easier. Instead, he had to look deep into her eyes as he took her life. He felt no remorse. Because even though Peter had told her that he was still the same person as he was before the accident, that wasn't true. Doctor Arkapo may have been able to transfer the mind of Peter Dawson to another vessel, but there were certain things even science couldn't duplicate. It was an emptiness that Peter felt constantly... something hollow that he couldn't quite describe, as if something was missing. Perhaps it was a soul. Whatever it was, the being in the schoolyard that had coldly taken the life of Talia Rush was no longer Peter Dawson, and though she been the first, she would certainly not be the last. They would all pay... for the taunting, the bullying, and the rejection. Now he had the power. He casually tossed the body into the bushes at the back of the school, and lighting a cigarette, pondered his next move.


THE END


2015 Dave Steinman

Bio: Mr. Steinman has been writing SF as a hobby for about 5 years.  His main interests are speculative fiction and time travel. This is his first published story.

E-mail: Dave Steinman

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