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Laika

Babette came to the home the same week we got a television. They arrived three days apart, both dropped unceremoniously at the front door. Madame Durance never bothered much with the girls but was very put out by the lack of paperwork for the strange machine. “We need to keep track of these things,” she said, nudging the box with her sensible shoe. “What if it makes us all sick?” Hollis the orderly had it hooked up within an hour. It was 1957, the year Khrushchev looked up to a stardrunk sky and found a new world to conquer. We were all hankering for the unknown, though that could be hard to find in Nebraska.

Babette, however, was left to dawdle in the hall, regarding her new surroundings gingerly. She had a stooped posture that made her appear smaller than she was, the sack dress she wore so thin it seemed in danger of dissolving with each breath. But her hair fell in Grimm-golden ringlets that anointed her in a light that seemed both suspect and enviable. She could as easily have come from Hollywood as Omaha.

“Babette,” Madame Durance repeated when she asked who she was. I could see her mulling it over, the name that sounded at once Biblical and lewd. “You’ll bunk with her,” she said, nodding towards me. All the new ones did.

It was an unspoken rule that the girls not ask each other what brought them to Durance Home. It was simple enough to guess some of their troubles, the ones with space pod bellies already in orbit. They’d grow big, disappear for a day or two then return with bodies evacuated of their heroes. Nothing left but tears. The rest were dragged in by their mothers. I was brought by my brother, the only family I had, my slippery fingers having found their way into one pocket too many. He bought me a chocolate malted on the drive, the last ice cream I would taste until adulthood. The woods around the home were filled with brocade trees. Deer flashed past like hoaxes. When we pulled up to the gate with its jack o’lantern teeth, it was blocked by ogling boys that Madame Durance shooed away. Like pigeons. When he left my brother kissed my cheek, his whiskers leaving little cat scratches on my skin. That was 1954. I was ten. He died eleven years later in Vietnam; I remember the look on Madame’s face when she told me about him. But Babette, far as anyone could tell, arrived alone.

{TO READ THE REST OF THIS STORY, PLEASE PURCHASE ISSUE 41 (Science Fiction).}

 

Sara Batkie received her MFA in Fiction from New York University in 2010. Previous work has appeared in Gulf Coast, LIT, and Epiphany, and her story “Cleavage” was an honorable mention in Best American Short Stories 2011. Currently she lives in Brooklyn where she is at work on a novel. This story,”Laika,” recently was awarded a Pushcart Prize.

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