The Unrhymed Couplets of the Universe
by Sharon Shinn
Henry sipped from his morning coffee, gazing over the rim of the cup at the green
plastic ball in the middle of the kitchen table. It had not been there twenty seconds
previously. He had looked up from buttering his second piece of toast to find it
sitting jauntily on top of the real estate section of the newspaper.
Henry was eighty-two years old, retired since he was seventy, a widower since he
was seventy-six, and nothing much alarmed him or terrified him any more.
Certainly not a child's scuffed green ball, no matter how sudden its appearance. It
didn't do anything interesting for the five minutes he watched it, so he eventually
shrugged, stood up, and cleared the table. By the time he had finished rinsing out
the coffee pot and loading the dishwasher, the ball was gone.
That evening while he watched television, a fat red pillow manifested itself beside
him on the couch. It was edged with gold braid and looked like it belonged in a
living room that was much fancier than anything Henry would find comfortable.
Like the ball, it didn't stick around long. Before the next commercial break, it had
More random objects appeared at a somewhat faster rate the following day. The
first one showed up while Henry was sitting at his desk, checking emails. He
loved email. Never had to speak to a soul if you didn't feel like it, but you still
had the sense of being connected to every person you'd ever met in your entire
life, even the ones you didn't like so much. He was just typing a reply to his sister
in Florida when he glanced over to find a small glass of water sitting at his right
elbow. In the water was a thin paintbrush, and the residue of black paint had
oozed from the bristles into the liquid, turning it a foggy gray. Henry couldn't
think that these were the tools of a true artist; more likely they belonged to an old
woman daubing at a heavy piece of pressed paper or a child experimenting with
They were gone before he'd thought about it too much, but he hadn't even stood
up from the desk before the next apparition of the day arrived. It was a photo
frame, holding a picture of a laughing family of five as they posed before a
waterfall in what looked like a national park. Henry might not even have noticed
it except that it blocked the photo of Ellen that he glanced at on a fairly regular
basis. He pushed it aside carefully, in case his touch might contaminate it in some
way and make it impossible for the frame to return to its rightful place -- the way
he'd always been taught the scent of a human would contaminate a baby bird or a
wild rabbit and make its natural parents shun it forever. But he wanted to gaze at
Ellen a moment before he quit the room for the day.