A New Lease on Life (with No Escape Clause)


by Dale Stromberg

Bellatrix Sakakino was reborn with all the memories of her previous life intact.

She solved algebra problems while still in diapers and corrected her mother’s grammar before her milk teeth were in. Toilet-trained herself as soon as physiologically possible. Didn’t merely sing along with nursery songs—sang in contrapuntal harmony. Parents and educators were astonished. They also found her disquieting.

Kindergarten was much less confusing the second time around. When Jimmy McDaniel called her ‘Smellatrix’ and blew fart noises at her, she recognized it as merely an attempt to gain approval from their peers at her expense; the giggling didn’t bother her. Being more mentally and emotionally mature than her classmates, she never made friends, and never wanted to.
Still, she erred.

One morning, she pointed out to her kindergarten teacher—a kindly fellow, though she could scarcely believe he’d finished high school—a factual error in his Safety Rules poster concerning whether pencil lead contained actual lead. All the mothers were there for observation day. Poor Mr. Bell looked like he might choke. Bella realized it would have been better to bring it up in private.

That afternoon, when Owen Adebayo, a bashful, docile child, had a strawberry Go-Gurt that Bella coveted, she convinced him to split it. She figured she knew how to handle child psychology: with enough ten-cent words and projected authority, before long she had him wanting to share. But at the end of recess, she saw Owen sobbing alone by the playground backstop. The murmur of her better nature came, as always, too late.

After school, her mother surprised her with a pricy Sylvanian doll. Bella, hoping to avoid conflict, lied sweetly and said she loved it. So her mother went out a week later and bought a whole collection of them, planning to delight her. There was so much else the money could have been spent on; Bella found herself unable to playact the requisite joy. Mommy was crestfallen.

Each time, Bellatrix felt the smart of conscience ever more sharply. And with a prior lifetime’s worth of mistakes also in memory, the weight of living grew heavier and heavier.

What a peculiar child she made.

* * *

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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