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The Torte and the Hair

by Randall Brown

Randall Brown teaches at Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He is the author of the award-winning collection Mad to Live (Flume Press, 2008), his essay on (very) short fiction appears in The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction

            The rumors of New Years Eve midnight fireworks led the two kids to sit up on their veranda overlooking the beach.

 David told Amelia that it would be impossible for her to stay up, for he was the night-owl (being a college student) and she often went to bed at eight or nine (being only a middle schooler). She told him that if she fell asleep, she fell asleep, what did it matter, and why did he ruin everything: saying he was the best at carving the turkey, the first one with his bathing suit on when they got to the villa, the greatest ever at walking backwards into his own footprints, the longest and reddest hair in the family.

  “Isn’t it tiring?” she asked him.

  “I bet the fireworks will explode over the olive grove instead of the ocean,” he said. “Not that you’ll be awake to know.”

An hour before midnight, David began to worry, for Amelia showed no signs of tiring, and his racing down the streets to be the first back, the first in the ocean, the first to the shops had left him rather drained. He went to the kitchen and came back with two tortes, one that had been given a small addition: some Benadryl. He placed the drugged torte in front of Amelia.

  “A torte is stay-up food,” he said, but then realized he’d forgotten forks, so he left again to get them.

 Amelia couldn’t remember her brother ever bringing her anything. She examined it closely, and on her torte, she found a strand of red hair, which grossed her out. Therefore, she switched the tortes, so now David had the sleepy one.


When David returned with forks, they ate their tortes, David smiling at Amelia between each bite as he finished his first.

 “I wonder if they’ll be different than the fireworks at home,” she said.

  “I’ll let you know.”

 “Thanks for the chocolate, David." She checked the time on her phone. "That was very kind.”

 “What are brothers for?"

 They sat and waited. Even if she did stay up, she knew that David would find some way to say that he stayed up first or better, ways she hadn’t thought of. She turned to say something about this to David, but he was asleep! And it was fifteen minutes until the fireworks!

 She watched them alone, capturing a video of them on her phone. Now and then, she turned again to David to remark, "I've never seen that color before" or "Look how they cover the whole sky." But he was sound asleep.

 In fact, David slept all that night, all the next morning, and awoke late in the afternoon. Upon waking, the first thing he said was “I lost.”

 “That had to be the longest sleep anyone in our family has ever taken,” Amelia told him to make him feel better.

 David asked Amelia to describe the fireworks to him, and instead she showed him the video she took for him from her phone. Together, they watched the dark sky explode into colors, David saying nothing about being right about their bursting over the olives and Amelia leaning against her brother as they oohed and aahed in unison at this start of the new year.

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