A Map Like Constellations

Elizabeth Broadbent

Nov 4th 2022

“I know how you feel, but he’s begging me to bring you down,” Mrs. Prioleau said. Her curls didn’t move and her purse could bludgeon a man; she’d caught me makeup-less and messy-bunned on my way to morning class. “You have to come.”

She tried small-talking me from the University of Georgia four hours downstate to Savannah. I handed her monosyllables. Alex had always sworn: If I die, don’t let them do it to me. I’d always flip back, Only if you promise they won’t do it to me. But once, his face had dropped from laughter into something serious and almost angry. “Promise me, Farrow,” he said, his voice low. “Don’t let them do it. I think she’d try.”

I’d smacked him. “I promise. Now stop it. You’re not dying anytime soon.” I said it partly because I believed it, and partly because I had to believe it.

But Alex could bleed. Alex could gasp, and Alex could die.

Mrs. Prioleau led me into their antebellum house, fossilized to twentieth-century relic through zoning variances and preservation allowances. There were the brass mermaid lamps I’d traced with my finger, rubbing that particular bump where skin met scale; there the fraying Persian rug; there the jarred marbles we were never allowed to touch.

Nothing had changed.

And nothing could prepare me. My swallowed sob became a sigh: a tangle of deliverance and agony, of love and disgust. My eyes filled and I slapped a hand over my mouth. That drunk driver had smashed him like a doll, but an Alex waited at the window as if it never happened, as if those terrible nights after never happened—that long hospital vigil, then that final ripping moment when they unplugged everything and he simply didn’t breathe, as if he’d forgotten how.

“Farrow.” That familiar Savannah accent drew my name out, then swallowed its second syllable. “You came.”

They’d got him right. This Alex bit a pouty lip; his long nose wrinkled; his freckles had been mapped like constellations. I stared, searching for a flaw, a failure. I found nothing, nothing. 

“I swear it’s me. I heard you telling me to wake up.”

“They download you fifteen minutes after death. Of course you remember.” My throat tightened.

When the Alex stepped forward, I flinched back. People said they felt like real skin but I didn’t want to know. “I am Alex. We never understood, Farrow.”

“You think that but you’re not him.” My voice caught.

“Everything’s here, Farrow. I remember kindergarten with you. Our teeth fell out the same day. And I remember our first kiss. I remember. That night we lost it—”

I hugged myself, warm in his Vans hoodie I’d stolen years ago. “You run on a battery.”

“You know what’s awesome?” Familiar laughter battered me. “I don’t pee anymore. It’s amazing, not to bother peeing.”

I hugged myself tighter.

“Farrow, please. I can’t lose you.”

I choked. “I already lost you.”

“But I’m here now.”

I watched you die!” I shouted.

 “You begged me not to go. And I told you I wouldn’t, didn’t I?”

I nodded. Blood had trickled from his mouth when he spoke.

“So when they made you leave I said to the medics, ‘Tell them to sim me. I told her I won’t go.’ ” The Alex’s eyes turned flinty, gray and hard as the night I’d made my promise. Those eyes followed me, eyes which weren’t eyes at all. “My mother didn’t do this. I did, and I did it for you.”

I covered my face with my hands. After they’d dragged me away, I’d seen him speaking, but they held me back. I’d thought: I’m missing his last words.

Warm arms tightened around me. How did this Alex smell the same? A chemical trick of deodorant and shampoo, maybe.

“I remember promising,” Alex said. “I told you I wouldn’t go.”

When I rested my head on his chest, it rose and fell, rose and fell. No oxygen filled strong lungs. I sobbed like he’d forgotten how to breathe.

Author Bio: Elizabeth Broadbent has published speculative prose poetry in Bewildering Stories, Down in the Dirt, and AntipodeanSF (forthcoming). She also has a story in Wyldblood #10. She lives in the United States with her three children and husband.

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