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art by Agata Maciagowska

Ivy Rose

Dan is a systems engineer working, reading, and hiking in Silicon Valley. His work has previously appeared in a handful of eclectic publications. However, this is his first professional sale. Dan maintains a blog at danhartfiction.com.

Ivy tried to imagine how it would feel to be bereft of his musical ability, but could not. The Transfer Specialist smiled at him with warm cheeks and wide eyes. His nametag, elegant as the sleek office, sparkled gold: "Ted Seals." Ivy studied Ted's smile and concluded it was a lie.
"How much would you give me?" Ivy asked, forcing steady breaths. His heart thumped three times for every tick of the wall clock. He needed at least ninety-two thousand for Rose's cochlear implants. He hoped for a hundred and fifty, despite the horror stories of artistic skills selling for less than twenty thousand per decade of experience.
Some of the warmth left Ted's smile. "Well, you have nine years of professional musical experience--although that was a decade ago. Artistic neural pathways aren't in high demand these days with the economy what it is, and they fade with age and neglect."
Ivy's bones felt heavy. "How much?"
Ted pulled in his lower lip, shook his head, and sighed. "I like you, Ivy. I like your music. Your wife has the most phenomenal voice I've ever heard. I bought everything you sold. I love your songs." Ted thumped his chest and nodded, as Ivy had done at the end of each set. "They're powerful and romantic. Majestic. I wish you had never stopped."
Ivy soaked up the praise like a dry sponge, and closed his eyes in nostalgia. Few remembered Ivy Rose, their two-person cabaret band. He could still feel his fingers rolling over ivory keys and hear Rose's glorious voice, lustrous like golden sunlit chords dancing on cloudy staves.
"Eighty thousand," Ted said. "That presumes twenty years' professional experience, you understand. Not the nine you actually have. The boss won't be happy, but you deserve it."
"That's not enough!" Ivy shook his head; his eyebrows scrunched. "We weren't rock stars, but we were popular. Surely my talent is worth more than that."
"Your talent, absolutely. Sadly, we can't harvest that. Only your neural pathways. What the buyer does with those is up to his own faculty."
"It's not enough."
"I wish I could do more--I really do adore your music. But adding additional experience would start your professional career before you were sixteen. I can't stretch the truth that far."
Eighty thousand was still eighty thousand; Ivy only needed twelve grand more. Perhaps he could sell a kidney.
"May I ask why you are doing this?" Ted pressed his fingertips together and leaned forward.
"For Rose. Her voice works fine--it's because of her ears that she can't sing. There's nothing to be done about the cancer, but..." Ivy breathed heavily through his nose. His pause was not interrupted. "I just wanted to let her hear again. Let her sing again. She needs a cochlear implant, but insurance won't pay for it. I've been saving on the side but I'll never have the hundred grand." His eyes stung. "Never."
"I see." Ted stared down at his desk. When he looked up his smile was gone. "Are you sure you want this?" he asked. "We can give you an advance of a couple weeks, of course. But after that we will take your ability. You won't be able to play anymore. Are you sure you want that?"
"Of course I want it!" Ivy bowed his head, but his voice didn't break. "She's given me so much. I need to give music back to her."
Ted nodded. "What other skills do you have?"
"What? None worth anything."
"Are you sure? Can you read?"
"Yes, but--"
"Ten thousand."
"I can't give up reading!"
"You could always re-learn. Are you a fast learner?"
"No." Ivy's chest clenched around feelings of worthlessness. "Not at all."
"How about unique experiences? Perhaps the memory of your career and romance?"
"Never! I would never give those up."
Ted shook his head and sighed. On the wall behind him, the clock ticked to fill the silence.
"I can do one thing besides music," Ivy said. "I can draw, a bit."
Ted's face brightened. "Oh? For how many years?"
"Casually since, well, forever. Doodling in school, just comics and sketches for friends since then. Want me to draw something?"
"Yes, absolutely."
Ivy turned his resume over and drew Rose singing on the back. His fingers had sketched her curves hundreds of times. He longed for her singing lips and gave her flowing hair she hadn't had in years.
He smiled when he finished, but Ted frowned. "It's not professional," he said. "I mean, it looks nice, but there's no perspective and the proportions are wrong. We'd be lucky to sell those engrams in a bargain bin."
Ivy stared at the floor. His jaw trembled.
Ted tapped his desk, staccato at first, then heavier as the pace increased. "OK. I'll give you fifteen thousand for them. As a favor for Ivy Rose."
"Thank you," Ivy said. He sighed as his chest relaxed. "How long do I have?"
"Two weeks, if you sign today."
"Thank you." He signed the contract, feeling only the tiniest pang of regret.
Rose was fitted that very afternoon.
Ivy played his grand piano until his fingertips swelled to purple-black agony. He played and Rose sang, and their hearts embraced in adagio harmony.
They barely ate. Barely slept. They existed for the music.
Rose died a month after the Transfer Engineers took Ivy's neural pathways. She sat at the piano on her final day, and begged Ivy to sit beside her, insisting he might remember something.
But not even chopsticks remained.
"I don't care," he'd said. "Those were the most beautiful two weeks of my life."
"Then promise me one thing." She had smiled so seductively. To cement her request, Ivy was sure.
"Learn to play again."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Author Comments

When I was a teenager, my closest friend told me she would rather go blind than deaf. I didn't understand it at the time.

- Dan Hart
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