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Flash Fiction by Lucy Miao


Patient Zero’s room is a science fiction collector’s wet dream. There are action figures and The Twilight Zone DVDs and mint-condition Golden Age comic books stacked on all the shelves. A sonic screwdriver replica blinks on the desk, which itself seems to be modeled after some late 70’s idea of what a spacecraft should look like. Old movie posters plaster the walls: Back to the Future and Blade Runner and Planet of the Apes. Robot print sheets are stretched over the bed. A basic chemistry set sits underneath the mattress gathering dust.
     She was a good girl, the mother says, hiccupping into the father’s shoulder. She always wanted to be around for the end of the world. It was the one thing she could never stop talking about—
     Wait, the documentarian interrupts. The cameras aren’t running yet.



“I can tune pianos,” he says. “I can tune pianos and clean French horns—did you ever wonder how people get to the little valves?” He smiles, revealing teeth that flash in the low light. “That’s my secret. Not gonna put myself out of a job.”
     The repair shop is dark and cramped. The walls are covered with cracking, yellowed wallpaper. A bulb swings from the ceiling as the fan in the corner sputters and clicks. There are no windows. The only other light in the room streams from the glow of bright optic fiber. It threads through the base of a bassoon and weaves in and out of its splintered keypads, a glowing exoskeleton that makes the grains of wood stand out in stark relief.
     The repairman stands in the doorway to the back of the shop. He’s wearing dirty jeans and an old shirt that says “WILSON MIDDLE SCHOOL MARCHING BAND” in big, block letters. There are oily streaks on his hands and clothing from where he was just greasing up a tuba.
     He looks at me and then at the bassoon-lamp. “An eighth-grade kid dropped it,” he says, smiling again. “It cost ten thousand dollars.”



I’ve been counting all morning. It’s exhausting, but it gives me something to do. Number of people in the church: ninety-nine, plus one for the body. What a nice, round number. How perfect. Number of figures in the stained-glass windows: five. One of them is supposed to be a Saint, maybe Francis of Assisi, but the artist’s rendering makes him look like a woman, all long hair and flowers and shit. Number of people in flip-flops: zero. I guess that’s supposed to be a sign of respect. It’s too bad. Maria loved flip-flops. She would’ve liked to see some here.
     I count the number of people in my family named Maria. There’s the one in the casket, and my mom’s sister and my dad’s mother and my dad’s third cousin and my grandfather’s first cousin and my first cousin on my mom’s side who’s only seven and keeps screaming in the church, but there are still more Marias so I keep counting and I think I stop at eight, which is odd because there are definitely more Marias in this family but I can’t think of them right now, so I start counting Johns because there’s my second cousin and my grandfather’s brother who’s my great uncle and my grandmother’s brother who’s my other great uncle and my dad’s brother who’s just my regular uncle and that other John who’s giving a eulogy-type thing right now at the lectern, but I can’t remember how I’m related to him at the moment. I’ll think of it later.
     Amount in dollars I paid for these pumps, the ones that are killing the arches of my feet: seventy. They’re Nine West’s, from the new spring collection, round-toed with five-inch heels and one-inch platform, non-skid soles. I think about sliding them right off. Maria would’ve liked that, but the other Marias who are still alive and breathing would consider it inappropriate, so I keep them on. Instead, I count the poppies lining the pews.

Lucy Miao is a student at Johns Hopkins University. She prefers texting over phone calls and enjoys long walks on the internet. This is her first time being published.