For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.
July 25th, the sun washes over Blossem, and the Texas heat seeps into my blood stream. Every day prior to this, it only beat against my flesh, turning me darker shades of tan and giving the illusion that I was actually my mother's daughter and not just a light-skinned replacement. Today, though, as I head to work, I could feel the rays moving with my blood, and I could see my skin glow. On these hotter days, when the temperature rises past triple digits, when eggs are baking on the sidewalk, when the window unit is buzzing so hard that it looks like it might shake itself to the earth, I tend to find missing pieces of myself. I used to think that this action had some spiritual meaning, but I've come to learn that it means a little more than that. I ain't sure how. Some things you just feel, you know.
Poppa doesn't like me walking around by myself on account of me being a pretty, young girl and it being a bad, bad world. He says it don't matter when; day or night, there's creeps out there, and they're looking to do me harm. That's what he says anyway. But he ain't ever left the house to walk me and keep me safe or anything. He just sits around the house, staring out the window, pretending like an eagle or something is going to swoop in and take him away. Well, I'm glad he never comes because he never could understand how I find these missing parts of myself. To him, it's just junk. Like, when I found the plastic bag full of old bottle caps, he told me that the caps didn't have anything to do with my soul, that they were just somebody else's trash, and that I was a nutcase like Momma used to be. He didn't understand how the severed arm of a Ken Doll was a part of me either.
He doesn't understand because that's the kind of person he is. Poppa never went with us to church, never prayed, never read the bible, never told us stories about angels or heaven — not even when pets died or when grandparents died or when we happened upon that poor girl who washed up in the lake during one of our few family outings — he called them worm food, told us we couldn't see them again in any way, shape, or form. Momma talked about saving him all her life, but you can't save that kind of person. He was engineered differently from Momma and me, though I looked more like him than I ever did her.
When I step on it, and its hard plastic edge digs into the exposed soles of my feet, I think about how I could never explain to him how it was returning to me. I bend over and clutch it, carefully, like a precious jewel — a little plastic F plucked from a keyboard ... my little plastic F. Of course, I only ever saw computers at the library, but I could recognize them and their parts and whatnot. And I could see my soul in that F and in the swirling lines of heat stretching across the sky. The free parts; the fun parts; the fast, flowing, fresh parts; the fantastical; the fabulous; the fragile and feminine parts of me, and I wondered if there were another universe, in a mirror or in a black hole or down a well, in which Poppa understood, and I drifted into it, like a fever.