Science Fiction

Have you ever wondered what the sun tastes like? I’ll tell you. It’s like sipping a hot cup of chamomile through a straw; warm, mild, inviting. I’ve been eating the sun for seventeen years. I eat it on my morning walk through my neighborhood, by my east-facing office window, and in the car as I drive home. A sunset is the most delicious if you can catch a good one. The more colors, the better. Orange adds tang and purple adds a milkiness that feels like silk running through your skin. 

Of course, I need a bit more than the sun to function. Like a tree, I need a copious amount of water and an occasional bump of sugar, which I usually get through my weekly bowl of cinnamon oatmeal. Around others, I try to eat the physical food that they do. I play with my mashed potatoes and suck on chicken bones, but my body needs none of that to function. I know what others would think if they knew I ate the sun–they’d think I’m a liar; a remnant of an over-promoted but failed experiment to cure hunger from decades ago; a scam. 

For most people, that’s what it was: a scam. An expensive one, at that. The pill that could supposedly mutate your skin cells to photosynthesize costed nearly seven grand a capsule. It was especially marketed toward the poor. EcoLife got bloated off people’s life savings on a cure they knew was faulty from the start. For most who swallowed the small, pebble-like pill, it simply didn’t work, but like daisies in an already crowded field, stories began pushing toward the sky about a dangerous side-effect. For a small minority, the pill’s effect didn’t stop at the skin but kept crawling inward until the lining of people’s stomachs and the vesicles in their hearts turned hard as bark. Then, without warning, a great branch erupted through their chests; leaves in full flush, the supple bark of a sapling. That’s what the photos showed, at least. Gruesome, but certainly worse ways to die. Despite EcoLife’s best attempts to stifle these accounts, it wasn’t long until the company was in ruins and with it, my father. 

My father had worked at EcoLife for as long as I could remember. In my memories, I can never quite pin down the color of our living room walls because plants of all sizes and shapes and smells covered every free inch of surface. Half were an experiment of some sort–genetically mutated to more efficiently absorb various amounts of sunlight or something of that nature–the other half were for pleasure. My father adored plants. He treated them with the same care and respect as people. He got just as much joy from marking my yearly growth on the doorframe of the kitchen as he did seeing new leaves push through the crevice of stems or aerial roots dive toward the soil. Though most would say I was an only child, the plants were my siblings. Once in the middle of explaining how my algebra test went, my father held up a bony hand and said, “Stop just a moment, Thia. I noticed our elder Fiddle Leaf was looking a bit down this morning. Let’s go sit by him and talk there.” Our voices, he always reminded me, made the plants feel better, so it was good to speak to them about your day and troubles.  

I never knew my mother, but my father named me after her favorite flower: Forsythia. She used to call the yellow-flowered bush “the first breath of spring.” Seeing as I was born in late March, father found it fitting. When I was four, I asked my father where my mother had gone. He sighed very deeply and took off his glasses, making his eyes look puny seated beneath all the wrinkles of his forehead. He brought me to a plant with sharp, blue arms that cast from the center like the burst of a star. 

“Do you know what plant this is?” he asked. I shook my head. He lifted my hand and directed my plump fingers to glide against the soft spikes of each firm leaf. “It’s called an American Agave, or the Century Plant. It’s found mostly in the southwest and in Mexico. It’s quite spectacular. The juices from its leaves have been used to heal wounds and bug bites and sores.” I stared in awe at the soft skin of the agave. 

Father lifted me onto his knee. “But every Century Plant, like this one, meets a curious end. It blooms only once, after maybe 25 years or so. Soon after, it dies and leaves behind its clone in the form of seeds. Your mother did the same. She poured her whole being into creating you.”

“Mom is agave?” I asked, wondering how I could have come from such a plant. 

Father chuckled. “In some ways, she was.”

“Did I kill mom?”

He grabbed my tiny shoulders and looked at me sternly. His green eyes were wide and wet. “No. She wanted you to be born more than life.”

I was twelve when EcoLife began testing the pill on people. My father was a firm believer in its benefits, though he hoped that once the company proved it was a viable cure for hunger, it would go beyond the private sector and be given to the public for free. Sometimes I heard him tell the plants that this would never happen: governments couldn’t function if everyone was full. Plants were always generous; in a forest, commingling roots share nutrients and pass along resources. Plants, in so many ways, were better than people, which is why I think my father wasn’t too concerned about the cost of human life needed to test EcoLife’s pill. 

He believed so whole-heartedly in the long-term benefits of the pill that he never questioned the CEO’s willingness to turn the other cheek at the company’s failed attempts and atrocities. Like the Board of the company, father believed that more money was needed to perfect the pill, and if that money wasn’t going to come from the government or non-profits, the next best place to look was people’s pockets. For my fifteenth birthday, my father gave me a tiny box wrapped in a blue ribbon. I thought it would be a necklace or a ring, but instead, a dull, hard pill rattled around the bottom. I looked up at him, surprised. 

“It’s ready?” I asked. 

Father’s smile ate up his whole face. “Yes! We’re ready to launch next week. It will be in pharmacies all over the country. But I wanted you to have one of the first tastes.”

“Have you taken one yet?”

“The whole office took one yesterday–had it with a glass of champagne! Everyone was ecstatic.”

“So…did it work?” 

He gave a small shrug. “It can take several months for the full effects to kick in.” He grabbed my hands. “We can taste the sun together!”

And that was all I needed. The pill was grainy, like swallowing a clump of dirt. It was the best gift I could imagine, but as a fifteen-year-old swallowing the pebble, I did not know that father had already witnessed trees bursting from test subject’s stomachs. Years later when the trials began, he would say in his defense, “Only 1% of participants experienced such side-effects. This number was so benign and insignificant that I felt the pill was safe enough to give to my own daughter.” I used to wonder if he gave me the pill as a justification for later use. 

Father never did eat the sun. As it turned out, the pill only had a 5% success rate, and for whatever reason, father was not one of the lucky ones. A month after I took the pill, my skin began to tingle each time I left the house and let the sun cast down on me. As the sun soaked through me, my belly became full and my body felt lighter. I was ecstatic, but I couldn’t tell father. It’d upset him, to know my genes and not his accepted the product he had dedicated and lost his life to. My father and the other scientists were a perfect scapegoat for those who really controlled EcoLife; those men claimed to have never heard of the horrific side effects that the scientists were so vividly aware of. The government slapped a fine of a few million dollars on EcoLife–a mere annoyance to the company–and my father and his colleagues were sentenced to life in prison. 

My father preferred the convulsions and cardiovascular collapse caused by ingesting water hemlock to living in a small cement block for the rest of his days. My aunt found him limp on the wooden floor of his office. A small bouquet of Queen Anne’s lace–water hemlock’s more pious twin–and stems of plucked forsythia, already withering, were tied together with twine. Attached to it was a note:

For Thia. What I did, I did for humanity’s sake. This, I do for you. Margaret would never forgive me for risking your life. Take care of the plants. Remember me, remember the sun. 


I wondered how I could love a father who used me as just another body in his experiment. I wonder, too, how the soil so easily forgets its inhabitants; those whose roots it protected maybe for days, maybe for centuries. Yet remembering becomes obsolete when life dissolves back into itself; seeding, then growing, plundering the soil and stripping it clean, then dying and rotting and giving life back to the ground. I feel this in my skin, in the way the hairs on my arms dance with rays of light. I feel this in my cells, who constantly die and revive. There’s nothing new and so there is no need to remember. No need to forget. I don’t think I would have ever known such bliss if it weren’t for father, if it weren’t for the sun.

June 16, 2022 21:41

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13:04 Jun 22, 2022

So beautiful. So sad. Excellent job with the prose to create metaphors for this story's unique world.


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Ash CR
11:46 Jun 19, 2022

what an interesting concept, super cool


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