Author : Ian Rennie

The puddles of rainwater reflected neon and sodium up from the streets as the two men stood at the taxi rank. One waited, the other waited with him.

“Shame you have to leave so early, Tom. The evening was just getting started.”

“Sorry Jake, it’s Barney’s storytime, you know how it is with kids.”

Jake looked uncomfortable for a moment, but continued.

“You coming out this weekend? Tanya is having a party at her house. Marie’s going to be there. You know, she really likes you. All week she was asking about you and making sure you would be here tonight. I don’t think she expected you to duck out after an hour.”

“I can’t. It’s Barney’s birthday this weekend.”

The discomfort turned to dismay on Jake’s face and he put a gentle hand on Tom’s shoulder.

“Tom, mate, it’s been six years. You have to let it go. You never come out any more. I know what happened, and it’s a tragedy, but you’re letting it eat your life up.”

Tom shook the hand off. Before Jake could say any more, the next cab arrived. Tom got into it without a word, as if Jake had simply been switched off.

When he got home, the lights were off throughout the house. He stood in the dark hall and looked for a moment at the shadows lacing through the open doors of the other rooms. He tried to remember the last time he had had visitors here, then shook the thought off as irrelevant, and headed upstairs to Barney’s room.

Barney was already lying on his bed. Tom was used to the lack of blanket by now. It didn’t break the scene for him any more.

“Hi, Barney-bear”

“Hi, daddy”

The voice was perfect, a computer recreation based on five years of recordings the house had made. In fact, everything about the projection was as close to perfect as he could get. He upgraded the software every time something better came out, and had even had some parts of it custom written. The result was as close as he could get to what he had lost.

Barney was five. He had been five for six years, now. He couldn’t get any older and Tom didn’t want him to. He pulled the book from the bedside table and started reading.

“Once upon a time,” he said, “There was a little boy…”

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