Aphelion Issue 221, Volume 21
September 2017
 
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Three by Three Equals Destiny

by Kelly Sauvage Angel




Having taken the 30-Day Minimalist Challenge perhaps a bit too far, I browsed the racks at St. Vinny’s thrift store in hopes of finding something near-suitable to wear for the opening reception of Holliana Thurbsnort’s art exhibition at the Galacta-Muse Gallery later in the evening. My mind must have appeared blown to those peering over my slackened shoulders for a glimpse of the latest mark-downs, for indeed it was. After quitting my job, selling my car and relocating to a tiny house community on the near east side of town, who would have imagined that I would know anything akin to a social life again?

Thus, how surprised was I when the latest sensation to break onto the local art scene approached me that very morning at the corner table, where I sat solving a diabolical-level sudoku, of the Broke-Ass Bastard Café.

“Mmmm, I could feel the wheels of your mind churning all the way from the barista bar,” she said as she circled my table and took a seat on the window ledge behind me so as to witness my admittedly remarkable adeptness at solving the puzzle.

“Would you like to grab a chair? Join me?” I asked, trying to wrap my head around her rather obvious attraction.

“I’m good just where I am,” she whispered while gently stroking my sternocleidomastoids, which with years of working number puzzles had developed into taut lengths of frustration and repressed desire. “Please, don’t let me be a distraction.”

By the time I had filled in the numbers within the center square, I could sense her breath growing rapid and ever more shallow. So, I set down my pencil and took a deep swallow of my black coffee, long grown cold. As I had hoped, she steadied within a softened rhythm of inhales and exhalation before I continued on in my quest for that one absolute solution.

When all of the possibilities in common started playing themselves out, one epiphany tumbling effortlessly into the next, even I let myself get caught up in the moment, my pencil scribbling numbers fast and furious.

So, that means this is four, which means that is two. And, if this is two, that over there has to be eight, which means, six, one, nine and…

“Oh, yes!” Holliana cried out. “Yes, yes, yes!”

*****


Walking my fingers along the hangers that dangled from the freestanding metal racks, I grew disheartened to find that every garment which initially presented with possibility either boasted an obscenely organic stain, was in reality far smaller or larger than the size on the tag suggested or proved itself at the height of fashion well before 2083, the year I turned ten.

As I neared the terminus of the rack’s offerings, I came upon a one-piece ensemble in a metallic cerulean with accents in silver and shimmery onyx. It was definitely dressy enough for the opening—and stylish to boot, especially when contrasted with the apparel tucked beneath the fold-out mattress in my tiny house, which was appropriate only for hunting morels.

After counting out the bills and change—a mere $69.99 plus tax—which transferred possession of the ensemble into my own, I made my way home to grab a quick nap, down a few bites of dandelion hummus on day-old hemp bread from the neighborhood bakeshop and dress myself for the occasion.

*****


As I entered the gallery, it rather dismayed me to find the other guests decked out in what must have been the current season’s designer fashions, complete with the requisite aesthetic and technological accessories.

Ugh, these are not my people, I thought to myself.

Nor mine, Holliana transmitted telepathically while offering me her sincerest smile from across the room. Hang in there for a bit. I’ll catch up with you once I’ve made the rounds. Then, we can grab a drink or… something.

Never had communication with a beautiful woman of incomparable creativity been quite so effortless.

As I watched Holliana glide through the crowd, I startled at an insistent tapping at my left shoulder.

“Yes?”

A lithe fellow very near my height met my gaze from not much more than six inches away.

“I don’t want to cause a scene amid such polite society, but you, sir, are wearing my uniform.”

“Pardon me?”

“I thought I would take part in your planet’s 30-Day Minimalist Challenge before resuming flight—and I must admit I’ve never felt so free and open to possibility—but I left something in the pocket of the uniform I donated to the thrift shop. I really must ask to have it back.”

“What? Why? How did you find me?” I stumbled over my words, as taken aback as I found myself on what was for me a rare night out.

“All Schicksalean uniforms are equipped with Intergalactic Positioning Systems. Anyway, I need what’s in your left pocket.”

“There aren’t any pockets in this get-up. Otherwise I wouldn’t have stowed my wallet in my underwear.”

“Trust me, there are. They’re just well-camouflaged.”

“Let’s back up a bit. I’m Buffon. May I ask your name?”

“Jengicon,” the wide-eyed space don responded. “Now, brush your hand forward, then back, then down on the diagonal.”

“Well, what do you know!”

“Very good. You’ve found it. Now, may I please have what is within?”

I pulled out a piece of newsprint, folded into sixteenths, and flattened it against the pop-up wine bar.

“Sweet, I love sudoku!” I beamed.

“Imagine that. Now give it here.”

“Pardon me?”

“It’s… It contains the code to the ship’s ignition,” he whispered harshly. “I need it back.”

“Not if you’re going to use that tone of voice.”

“Please, sir, may I have the paper from your pocket?”

“No. You’re not being sincere. As a matter of fact, you’ve been quite rude to me, I dare say, and I would prefer to enjoy the satisfaction of solving it myself.”

Holliana walked by, just then, and paused to make a breathy humming sound at my ear.

“Trust me, you’d get more mileage out of giving it back,” Jengicon said. “That one there? She’s my daughter.”

*****


It wasn’t until hours later that Jengicon was able to extricate Holliana from her admirers.

“It’s time to head back, Daughter,” Jengicon said. “You’ve had your fifteen seconds in the limelight. Now, onto the ship you go.”

“Why do you always have to be so bossy?” Holliana whined, a heartbreaking pout finding its way upon her lips. “This is my big night!”

“Daughter, are you articulating back-talk?”

“Yes, Daddy, I am.”

I couldn’t possibly have been more confused or felt more awkward, caught in the middle as I was. Holliana didn’t seem exactly eager to leave Earth or perhaps she simply was tired of doing her father’s bidding. I couldn’t help but wonder if her rebellion was motivated by a desire to individuate, to break free. And, if so, from what?

“You don’t even have the ignition code,” Holliana mocked.

“Oh, but I do!” Jengicon flaunted.

“Where? Last I heard, you donated it to charity, you old coot!”

“But, Daughter, my friend here has it right there in his pocket.”

“Do you, Buffoon?” she asked with a tone of wary enthusiasm.

“It’s Buffon, actually.”

“Where do you have it? Is it still in your pocket?”

“Yes, Holliana,” I assured her with a forward, back and diagonal motion of my hand as I once again secured it upon my person.

Uncomfortable witnessing the tension between them without understanding the dynamics at play, I pulled Holliana aside, out of Jengicon’s earshot. “Do you want to go home with your father or would you prefer to stay here… with me?”

“I would prefer… to know freedom.”

“Okay. What does that mean, exactly?” I asked.

“I would like for you to solve the puzzle so that I might depart for Inspiragon alone.”

“You’re abandoning your father?”

“Don’t think me unkind, but if I go back with him, he’ll withhold my funding unless I enroll in that stupid MBA program. I simply can’t do that. It’s not who I am. Trust me, he’ll fare quite well on his own. Daddy’s very resourceful—and loaded beyond belief.”

*****


After Jengicon stormed off, retiring for the night to a bench within a covered bus shelter at the corner of Atwood and Fair Oaks avenues to sleep off their stalemate, Holliana persuaded me to take her for late night tacos and drinks at the then-trendy Ohio Tavern.

After we had placed our order at the bar and found an open table, we sipped our drinks in silence. I could only assume she had realized that, given my mastery of deduction, I had come to understand the motivation for her coffeeshop enticement earlier in the day.

Without uttering a word, I slid the tattered paper from my pocket across the table.

“What? This is… mine to solve?”

“Of course, it is. The excitement, the titillation, you felt this morning at the coffeeshop was not for the solver but for the solution. Am I right?”

“Do you think I--?”

“Yes.”

“Even though--?”

“Absolutely.”

“I’ve never done anything on my own, much less solve a puzzle as challenging as this.”

“Your art is your own, and you’ve done quite well with that.”

“But, I’m afraid, Buffoon. I’m really, really scared.”

“We always are when we find that what we want most is, at last, well within our reach.”

*****


After escorting Holliana to the ship that had brought her to me and was so soon to take her away, I hesitated briefly at the gangplank before placing a chaste kiss upon her cheek and a well-sharpened pencil in her hand.

“Oh, Buffoon, you’ve given me so much!” The moonlight sparkled within her lashes.

“Be well, Holliana.” I was never much one for goodbyes.

As she made her way to the ship’s entrance, I turned and walked several meters in the opposite direction, only to linger unseen within a thicket of trees.

A good hour passed or maybe more. I began to wonder if she had reconsidered her decision to depart, if she felt that, in the end, yours truly might be worth staying for. After all, in very short time, she had built a stellar reputation within the local art scene. She could make a good living selling her artwork, maybe even teach classes if she were so inclined.

Just as I had begun envisioning how I might integrate an art space—and, forgive me—a nursery within my humble tiny house, the ship illuminated, then roared to life, headed for a destination chosen by Holliana—and Holliana alone.


THE END


© 2017 Kelly Sauvage Angel

Bio: A graduate of Northwestern University with a degree in literature, Kelly Sauvage Angel is the author of Om Namah… (published under Kalyanii) and a collection of poetry entitled Scarlet Apples & Cream. She most enjoys wiling away her free time manifesting her culinary inspirations and reveling amid the magnificence of nature.

E-mail: Kelly Sauvage Angel

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