by Mark Budman

Her skin changed colors every other second, and that was why she belonged to the lowest caste in her far, far away country. In fact, her caste was so low and so rare that it had only one member: her. People in the other castes had normal skin: black or white or brown or green or purple. Everyone was normal except for Adele, but she had a normal woman’s dreams.

She wanted to be rich, and live on the beachfront and have a child and, eventually, grandchildren. But no one gave her a job or married her because of her low social standing, and so she lived in a subsidized apartment and collected her country’s equivalent of American SSI.

One day, neither sunny nor rainy, she took matters into her own hands, and made herself a son. His body was play dough; his head was a tennis ball; his eyes were beads; and his legs and arms stiff copper wires. She drew him a mouth with her lipstick.  She even attached two feathers for this ears and a nail for his penis. To make sure he was her son, she embedded a bit of her DNA into the play dough: a strand of her hair, a fingernail and a few drops of blood.

She called him Beadeyes, in a tribute to the Italian wooden boy Pineyes she’d heard about when she was a little girl.

She spent all her time with Beadeyes. She shared her dreams and her meals with him, and they played Monopoly, and learned martial arts from YouTube. When she retired to bed, she let him use her computer. In the mornings, she found all ten inches of him still perched on the table next to the keyboard.

“Mommy,” he said a few weeks later, “I know how to make us rich.”

Adele was pleased he called her mommy instead of his usual Adele. “I’m listening,” she said.

“There are two ways: I either become a hedge fund manager, or a hacker. I don’t think they would hire me as a manager, so I have no choice but to be a hacker.”

Adele wanted to say something profound, but nothing but clichés came to her mind. “Be all that you want to be,” she finally said. She liked her choice of words.

So Beadeyes became a hacker, specializing in ransomware. He made almost a thousand dollars in ransom before being arrested by the local equivalent of the FBI and thrown in jail. He suffered being away from his mommy greatly, and was saved from becoming everyone’s bitch only thanks to his martial arts skills and the sharp nail between his legs, which he used both as a weapon and as an erection discouragement.

When he was released a year later, he came home a broken man. His copper wires had lost their stiffness and the lipstick mouth was smeared. He refused to play Monopoly, and lay all day long on the windowsill, staring at the ceiling with unblinking beads.

Unable to watch her son suffer, Adele made him a playmate, whom she called Adelaide. She was identical to Beadeyes in every way, but instead of a nail, she had Adele’s old copper ring.  Then Adele replaced Beadeyes’ nail with a penis made of wood, using Phallus impudicus, known colloquially as the common stinkhorn, for inspiration. Not too smooth, but no splinters.

Beadeyes knew Adelaide carnally, and they had three adorable kids in rapid succession: two boys and a girl, with tennis balls for the heads. They ran around the house and broke everything was there to break, and more.

Adelaide filmed the kids’ antics, posted it on YouTube and monetized it. They became rich and bought a four-bedroom mansion facing the ocean.

Adele’s skin became purple from exposure to the sun, and she was promoted to a higher caste, and she married a very handsome and gentle man with green skin. He was so gentle, in fact, that he asked her if yes meant yes five times every night.

All seven of them lived happily ever after. The kids grew up and wanted to become either hedge fund managers or hackers. The adults were against it—but would you listen to adults if you had a tennis ball for a head and pissed either through a copper ring or a wooden stick?

Sometimes, looking in the mirror, Adele sighed. Perhaps she missed her youth. Perhaps she missed her iridescent skin.  Perhaps she missed being alone. Perhaps she missed being poor. Perhaps she missed having impossible dreams. But when her husband joined her, kissing her neck, she smiled.  He was a good guy. He always ransomed her from sadness and had given her a “Get out of Jail Free” card.

Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union, and English is a second language for him.  His writing appeared in Five Points, Guernica/PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press.