Featured Fiction: Paradise by Vincent Poturica

Paradise

  1. The time-machine was finished, finally.
  1. It took seventeen days to complete, but seventeen days felt like a really long time to the Baby Geniuses.
  1. The time-machine was painted blue.
  1. Pinky chose the color; he called it “cobalt.”
  1. Pinky was a real go-getter.
  1. It was a beautiful day for time-travel: the sun was glancing off the seagull-shit that had already hardened on the time-machine’s “cobalt” hood.
  1. The Baby Geniuses were clapping; they did this on the recommendation of their therapists; each Genius clapped to the rhythm of his own “drum” when he was too anxious to speak.
  1. You could hear the clapping from three blocks away; there was a music to it.
  1. There were thirteen Baby Geniuses: Pinky, Slava, Kwame, Clever Hans, Clown Face, Tammy, Rigoberta, Rolex, Soapy, Prozac, Ninja, ‘Lil Slurp, and Financial Aid.
  1. The fourteenth Baby Genius (El Donkey), in a fit of despair, had crawled off a freeway overpass into rush-hour traffic.
  1. The fifteenth Baby Genius (Pancake) had had the bad luck of being caught in the crossfire of a shopping mall shooting between local police and a desperate young man named Glen.
  1. The Baby Geniuses were part of a government experiment.
  1. The experiment was classified.
  1. “Quantum physics” was involved; “extraterrestrial intelligence” was involved; a “depressed gorilla” was involved; it was all very hush-hush.
  1. Pinky’s hand quivered on the ignition key.
  1. He asked the others if they were ready to time-travel; he called it “bending history.”
  1. Tammy said, Seventeen.
  1. Tammy was always counting from one to one hundred; she refused to say anything other than the numbers in this sequence.
  1. The others, using their telekinetic abilities, had explored Tammy’s mind and concluded that she just wanted to “be” in every moment, to focus on each breath by assigning it an integer, a marker to keep her grounded in the present, to surrender to time, so to speak, rather than attempting to manipulate it.
  1. Tammy’s father was an alcoholic, but he was a happy drunk.
  1. Her mother was dead (too many amphetamines).
  1. Financial Aid stuck out her tongue at Tammy then at Pinky.
  1. Her tongue was purple from the Jolly Ranchers she’d been sucking since midnight.
  1. Financial Aid was a pain, but, because she had a twisted leg that “normal” babies often pointed at and sometimes bit, the others cut her a lot of slack.
  1. Also, her father worked the cashier at a Taco Bell and beat her with an extension cord (he was afraid of her Genius).
  1. Clown Face played with a cigarette lighter she’d stolen from her cousin.
  1. Pinky said, Dammit, babies! We’re on the verge of a breakthrough! Get your shit together!
  1. Several Baby Geniuses began to cry.
  1. They were babies, after all.
  1. Pinky apologized for losing his cool.
  1. But many of the Baby Geniuses had already left.
  1. They were late for soccer practice, piano practice, computer programming practice, Sunday School.
  1. It was Sunday, and most of the Baby Geniuses came from good homes.
  1. Their parents were still married or respectfully divorced, their siblings were well-adjusted and kept their neurotic Genius tendencies in check, they received presents on religious as well as on secular holidays, they were told often: You are loved.
  1. Like their parents, these Baby Geniuses believed in equality and the innate goodness of people.
  1. They came from enough money and stability to believe such things were possible.
  1. The remaining Baby Geniuses––Pinky, Tammy, Soapy, Clown Face, and Financial Aid––had limited experience with equality or goodness since their parents, on this Sunday, were dead or institutionalized or washing dishes for $4.15 an hour and freebasing crack cocaine in the bathroom of a nearby casino.
  1. In adherence to the government’s protocol to engineer a “diverse” sample size of Genius, these remaining Baby Geniuses represented the poor, the crippled, the insane, and the addicted.
  1. Tammy said, Thirty-nine.
  1. Pinky said, Fuck it.
  1. He set the dial to “+300 years” and turned the ignition key.
  1. Time waved like palm trees cemented into California sidewalks, in that stubborn way.
  1. There were no people or colors.
  1. There was an infinite swamp that bubbled and steamed.
  1. Pinky said, I guess three hundred years was too optimistic; he had assumed humans would still be around.
  1. Clown Face said, I miss my Mom.
  1. Financial Aid said, Yesterday I saw your Mom with the mailman, the garbage man, the air-conditioner repair man, the mysterious club-footed man, the Avon lady, the Jefferson’s golden retriever Tómas . . .
  1. Pinky said, That was absolutely uncalled for, Financial Aid.
  1. Soapy said to Financial Aid, Why are you such an asshole?
  1. Clown Face’s diaper overflowed.
  1. Tammy said, Fifty-one.
  1. The swamp made a groaning sound.
  1. Clown Face dipped her big toe from the hovering machine into the bubbling ooze and screamed; her toe was gone.
  1. Soapy grabbed Clown Face before she lost her foot.
  1. Soapy said, Don’t be like El Donkey, please, let me hold you, Clown Face, let me change your diaper and sing you a lullaby, let me style the downy tufts of your hair into Stegosaurus spikes, you love Stegosaurus spikes, Clown Face.
  1. Soapy wanted badly to communicate tenderness; he feared he had no Genius for compassion.
  1. Clown Face wriggled out of Soapy’s arms; said, Nothing will be different when I’m gone, and leaped into the steaming swamp.
  1. The swamp burped.
  1. Financial Aid said, The Future is lame.
  1. Pinky said, The Future is our retribution.
  1. Soapy said, I hate being a Baby Genius.
  1. Tammy said, Sixty-two.
  1. Pinky thought about the last time he had seen his father: his father’s left eye was swollen shut; there was a yellow flower crumpled in his shirt pocket missing half its petals; he asked Pinky who he was.
  1. Pinky thought about what it would be like to be his father, to be relieved of the terrible efficiency of Genius; he set the dial to “-280 years” and turned the ignition key.
  1. Time waved away the ugly swamp.
  1. Seagulls shat on the already shit-splattered hood of the time-machine.
  1. People walked around looking at their smart phones, which was probably why no one noticed that the Baby Geniuses had appeared in a time-machine.
  1. Some people had smart phones imbedded in their hands and, possibly, their heads (i.e., a few people were tapping their temples as if they were rebooting tiny computers lodged inside their brains), but otherwise everything looked pretty much the same.
  1. Pinky said, How about we find some milk and cookies? Milk and cookies will restore us.
  1. Soapy said, I don’t want milk and cookies; I want a spiritual experience.
  1. Pinky said, What do you mean by “spiritual experience”?
  1. Soapy said, Basically learning to be okay with yourself and the world.
  1. Financial Aid said, That’s a load of shit.
  1. Pinky said, That’s the first intelligent thing you’ve said all day, Financial Aid.
  1. Tammy pointed at a woman talking to her shoes and said, Seventy-five.
  1. The woman picked up Tammy and put her on her shoulders, and Tammy clapped as the woman walked away, stumbling.
  1. Tammy continued clapping, but she was already too far away for the others to hear her.
  1. Soapy said, I disagree; I just want to be okay with me so I can live a decent life.
  1. Pinky said, The only way you know the value of your life is whether people tell sad stories or funny stories about you when you die.
  1. Financial Aid said, Which is better: sad stories or funny stories?
  1. Pinky said, I haven’t determined that yet.
  1. Financial Aid said, You know, I was really hoping there would be some flying cars in The Future.
  1. Soapy said, Hey guys, where’s Tammy?
  1. Financial Aid said, Who cares.
  1. Soapy said, You really are an asshole.
  1. Pinky set the dial to “-5 minutes” and turned the ignition key.
  1. No Tammy.
  1. Pinky set the dial to “-1 minute.”
  1. No Tammy.
  1. Pinky said, This isn’t good.
  1. Financial Aid said, Whatever.
  1. Soapy said, Is this time-machine capable of reaching Heaven? Heaven may be our best bet.
  1. Pinky said, We can give it a try, and he set the dial to “Impossible Delusions.”
  1. The Baby Geniuses arrived at a door marked “God.”
  1. Financial Aid hobbled past Pinky and Soapy and pushed open the door.
  1. The room was smaller than the cramped studio apartment Financial Aid shared with her father and empty except for a large cage hanging from the ceiling.
  1. The cage was made of many tiny bones, perhaps the bones of babies.
  1. Tammy was inside the cage.
  1. Her eyes were open, but she didn’t see the Baby Geniuses.
  1. She said, One hundred.
  1. She said, One.

“Paradise” appears in Issue 8.2 of New South
purchase the print edition


Vincent PoturicaVincent Poturica’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in New England Review, DIAGRAM, Birkensnake, and New Ohio Review. He lives with his wife in Long Beach, CA, where he teaches at Cerritos College and Chadwick School.

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