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Flash Fiction
950 words
SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

Brain Child

by Sarena Ulibarri

The radiologist tells me to open my mouth. I’m lying on an x-ray table because I found a lump behind my ear, and this is the first of a long series of tests they’ve promised me. I open my mouth and tip my head back, feeling air brush the insides of my cheeks.

“Little wider,” she says, and I stretch until the corners of my mouth ache.

I think the last time my mouth was this wide was during a dentist visit when I was five. The dental assistant took Polaroids of each kid and posted them in the lobby with paper cutouts of personified molars. But I didn’t know the difference between the Polaroid and the x-ray, so I opened my mouth as wide as I could when the dental assistant pointed the camera at me. They posted it on the billboard: me on the bench with my ponytail and slouchy socks, eyes closed and jaw stretched open. A screaming chimpanzee of a child.

“Okay, you can close your mouth now.”

She comes in and lifts the lead vest off my torso, pushes a button so the machinery rises toward the ceiling. I sit up and rub my neck, rub the swollen sore spot behind my right ear.

The radiologist shuffles me over to an exam room where the doctor pulls up my x-rays on a computer. I don’t even look at them. I have no desire to see my own bones. I stare at the breast exam poster on the wall instead, analyze the differences between the up-and-down and circular methods.

“That can’t be right,” he says.

I’m starting to plan my funeral while he hems and haws over my x-rays. It occurs to me that the only thing my obituary will be able to boast of is copy store employee of the month. Once.

“If I didn’t know better,” the doctor finally says, “I’d say there was a miniature skeleton attached to the temporal bone.”


He points to the x-ray, so I have to look. His finger rests at the top of my ear and I can see it plainly. A collection of tiny bones. Curved spine. Microscopic fingers. An olive-sized fetus in my head.

“There must be some mistake,” he says and leaves me there in the exam room. I touch the lump behind my ear and wince, the dull pain creeping up the right side of my head. I hold my finger there and feel the heartbeat, and I know there’s been no mistake.

I don’t have time to be a medical miracle. We just got new scanners at the copy store and I’m the only one who has figured out how to work them. I’ve taken to wearing hats, scarves, earmuffs, anything to cover the lump that’s now grown to the size of a lime. The pain has doubled. Tripled. It’s an effort to hold my head straight anymore.

I’m avoiding the doctor, who calls several times a day. One of the voicemails informs me that he suspects an extraordinary case of ectopic pregnancy, so the next time he calls I answer and tell him, nope, haven’t had a disruption in my cycle. Nope, haven’t been sexually active since—Jesus. Prom night. That was a long time ago.

He wants to have me back in for more tests. ’Course he does. But if I miss any more days at work, the copy store manager will let me go. Good luck finding a new job with a peach-sized fetus growing behind your ear. I’ve graduated from hats to full babushka-like head scarves. My manager thinks it’s a religious thing, and he’s not too happy about that either.

Three months into this cranial pregnancy, I tell my brain child I’m going to call her Athena, but she answers back that Athena grew out of Zeus’ forehead, and she is securely attached to the right temporal lobe. Her voice is mature, matter-of-fact. A bit like my fourth grade teacher, who gave me detention for writing an alternate ending to Treasure Island in the blank pages at the end of the book.

This is the first time I’ve heard my brain child speak. I’m washing dishes and I stop, let the water run as I contemplate the temporal lobe.

“What is your name, then?”

I say it out loud, but I hear the response like a whisper in my right ear.


I go back to washing dishes.

“Good to meet you, Sophia.”

Sophia keeps growing. She’s orange-sized now, and the weight has tugged my head into a permanent tilt. She won’t shut up. Her voice isn’t soft whispers anymore, it’s more like screeching monkeys. I’m working the late shift at the copy store and I keep putting paper in the wrong compartments because she won’t stop talking about these things she wants. I don’t even pay attention to what they are because I’m trying to make sure all the copiers are in working order.

Finally I get so annoyed, and the lump in my head aches so bad that I slam a copier drawer shut, take one of the pieces of paper I dropped and go sit by the lamination machine. I take a pen from the customer convenience cup.

“What the hell do you want, Sophia? I’ll make a list.”

She tells me, and as I write the words the lump feels a little lighter. I can almost move my neck, even. It almost feels good. I look at the impossible-sounding list and ask, “How do you expect to get all this?”

She tells me, and this time as I write, there’s no doubt.

The lump shrinks with every word.


—Previously published in The Medulla Review (Volume 3, Issue 2)


SHJ Issue 8
Fall 2013

Sarena Ulibarri

is pursuing her MFA at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she is also on the staff of Timber Journal. Her fiction has recently appeared in Birkensnake, Lightspeed, The First Line, The Coachella Review, and elsewhere.

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“...we have been born here to witness and celebrate. We wonder at our purpose for living. Our purpose
is to perceive the fantastic. Why have a universe if there is no audience?” — Ray Bradbury