“Holographic Pandas and the Morning Rain” was the first piece of flash fiction that I ever wrote. The title came first and then I had to find out what it meant. I was truly amazed once I realized what–and who–the story was about. I think it may one day be the prologue to a book (I’m pretty sure I know what the story is about), but for now I’ll present it here as it was originally written.
She had no name. Perhaps that was to make things easier when her time came to leave. Nothing to connect her to this place. To them. To life before her existence could be sanctioned; before she was called to another life among the stars.
It wasn’t that they were unkind to her. Not really. The woman brushed her hair with the big silver brush, the one that had belonged to a distant relative who existed only as a memory, and whose picture came to be placed upon her bureau. She gazed at that picture for hours, noted every detail. So beautiful that girl with long, flowing dark hair and eyes brimming with secrets. On the table, in the picture, rested the silver brush, and sometimes, when she dared touch it with her small fingers, she felt transported into the picture itself. She felt as if it was her in the frame, and she was smiling, and she was beautiful, and she had a name.
The man warned about leaving it there, but he had left something as well: a small projection cube, no bigger than her thumb, which was filled with Pandas. At night, when she was frightened by the solar winds that had ravaged the planet for as long as she could remember, she cupped it in her hands and blew gently on it until the Pandas came out to play. They tumbled about, fat and soft, their eyes like choco-drops. The man said that when her time came to leave, that she could take them with her. Those Pandas. That brush. She thought that must be because they loved her, but she could never be sure because she wasn’t entirely sure what love was. It was silver, though, like the moon, and soft, like a Panda, and smelled like rare morning rain.
The woman left the window open sometimes, letting in the scent of poppies and honeysuckle. She had the vaguest memories of a garden there, bougainvillea dripping from a trellis and lilies floating on the surface of the water. It was their secret, hers and the man’s, and the woman’s. No one had gardens anymore. When the moons were full and bright and the night was deep with mystery, they led her to the garden in the ancient greenhouse and let her run and play until they feared her laughter might be overheard and they rushed back into the house and made her promise to be very still and quiet. She watched the Pandas amble in the palms of her hands then, and later, the woman brushed her hair with the silver brush and sang. The music was like the water, rare and sweet, shining and bright, but sad. So very sad. She didn’t know why. Did no one sing among the stars?
They told her little of the outside world, but she listened and she learned. She learned that life was hard and choices had consequences, and the vastness of space was brutal, and man’s laws were often unfair. The books they gave her spoke of obligation and survival. But they spoke of other books. And other truths. And another world. One night, she brushed her own hair and let the Pandas play on her ceiling all night.
In the fullness of time, they could deny it no more. Could hide her no longer. The man said there was nothing more they could do. The woman wept. Strangers came and led her away from all she had known. They used words she did not understand, like sanctioned reproduction, population control, relocation. They said that the man and the woman could give her nothing compared to what awaited her among the stars, but she knew it wasn’t true. They had given her a heritage, connected to the girl in the picture. To the antique brush. To a world far away. They had given her the Pandas, which only existed when she reached out her hands. They had given her the poppies, and the lilies on the surface of the pool. They had given her everything they had.
As they walked out into the morning rain, the sky sad with harsh reality, the woman tucked the brush into a small satchel and put it over her shoulder. The man pressed the holographic Pandas into her hands and blew softly. She watched them play and turned to show the strangers, who muttered amongst themselves. The man said they were within their rights and he raised his chin, proud and defiant for just a moment. The strangers frowned, but did nothing. She thought he was very brave and determined to be the same. The stars had called for her. She was not afraid.
The strangers said little as they guided her away. They seemed impatient, put out to have travelled so far just for her. They paused at the sound of the woman’s voice. She ran after them down a dirty alley, the man behind her, pleading with her to stop. The strangers looked cross. They spoke of honor, dignity, law… but the woman ignored them and held out the picture that had rested upon the bureau; the one of the long haired beauty with the silver brush that she already carried in her bag. The woman pressed the picture frame into her small hands and bent to whisper in her ear.
She was called Elida.
The woman looked deeply into her eyes and she understood. She looked up at the strangers, but they were bored and impatient, paying little attention to the sobbing woman before them. The man gathered the woman into his arms. He smiled at her and told her to remember the garden. The books that held truth. The Pandas. This, she understood as well. No matter what came, she was part of an unbroken chain. She might be taken from the only home she had ever known, but she had memories. She had a family. She had a name. No one could take those from her. And she would take them all to the stars.