You Put the Speck in Speculation

A short story by Dale Stromberg.

Peek behind each trembling leaf.

Bellatrix Sakakino is among the isotope smokers, at their invitation. She feels honored—overawed.

Languid, beautiful people with flawless posture. Poetic necklines. Admirable decadence. They hate Bellatrix, and quite reasonably, for she isn’t as good as them.

“This beauty you see in us,” they complain, “is false. We wear this earthly garment only till it spoils, like fruit out of season.”

“Oh, what can you know?” they scoff. “What have you felt of the burdens of mortality? Thy life, lost, were not lost at all. Knowest thou the tenth part of the anguish of the lovely?” One calls her häßlich. The others nod and smoke, earnestly.

“The body,” declaims one, “is a box of water.” The others nod and smoke again.

“There is a lyricism,” offers another, “in the leaching away of youthful charm.” He is a maverick; the others regularly ignore him; but this time his invocation of lyricism has struck a chord. All nod and smoke.

Bellatrix dares to interject: “Were I religious, I would pray: God rob me of all I love; tear every joy from me; cast me into incalculable misery, so that my suffering doth wax beyond mortal endurance—for then shall I begin to deserve what I have lost.

Then she waits for a response. A reaction of any kind. One of the smokers kicks her from behind. She falls down.

With her face on the ground, hemmed by enemies, Bellatrix forgets all. She gazes down into the dirt. She digs up a bit of earth with her fingers. Under it, she sees frost needles. Frost needles. Perfectly formed. If she hadn’t looked at them, it’s likely no one ever would have.


Dale Stromberg grew up not far from Sacramento before moving to Tokyo, where he had a brief music career. Now he lives near Kuala Lumpur and makes his living as an editor and translator. His work has been published here and there.

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