Artificial, Intelligible

Timothy Ryan


—Yes, Mom, it’s me.

—Adrianne, is that you?

—Yes, Mom, you can open the door.

—Wonderful, Adrianne, yes, yes, of course, it’s been so long–

—How are you today, Mom?  I brought over the honey you like from Mr. Capelli’s.

—His local honey, the clover?

—Yes, clover.  I’ll put it here on the counter.

—No, dear, could you keep it cool, keep it, Susannah, could you open the, oh, the what is it, the, the oven–


—Yes, the refrigerator.  Open the refrigerator for me?

—Certainly, Daphne.

—It doesn’t need to be cold, Mom.

—I think Daphne likes it cold, though.

—Come, Adrianne, sit, sit.

—Only a few minutes today, Mom. I have to pick up Justin and Clea.

—You can sit for a moment–

—Was there anything else you needed this afternoon, Mom?

—She has everything she needs.

—Susannah, I didn’t ask you.

—Daphne tells me if she needs anything.  And if I can’t get it for her, I call you.

—Did you bring the honey, Adrianne, dear?

—Yes, Mom, it’s on the – I put it in the refrigerator.

—At first Daphne wanted to put it in the oven.  But I corrected her.

—Mom, I think we need to talk about your whole living arrangement.

—What about Susannah?

—That too.

—She’s right here, dear, you know she can hear you.

—Your Mom’s right.  I can hear everything you say.

—Nonetheless, I think it would be better if you lived closer to us.

—Nonsense, dear, I get to see you often, you come at least once a month, don’t you?

—I come every day.

—That’s right, Daphne, Adrianne was here yesterday.

—It’s just such a drive all the way over here, it would be easier to check in on you.  Justin and Clea could also see you more often.

—Next time Justin and Clea come, they can have some ice cream with me!

—Do you want some ice cream, Daphne?

—No, Susannah, I didn’t ask you for ice cream now, did I?

—I’m sorry.

—Mom, this is what I’m talking about.  There’s a new place, a really nice place that just opened up ten minutes from our house.

—But what about Susannah?

—Yes, I know you have Susannah here, but look, we could probably bring Susannah with us.  Remember? We talked about this. But it might be better if we got a new—

—I know what you’re going to say.  You shouldn’t say that. You know how Susannah needs me.

—Mom, I know how you want to take care of Susannah—

—No, Adrianne, you don’t understand, Susannah is still taking care of me.  Aren’t you, Susannah?

—Daphne, I think we take care of each other.

—We do, don’t we?


—Susannah’s a great companion because, you know, nobody from the Agency comes around anymore.  They must think I’m a security risk.

—That was thirty years ago, Mom.  They’re – Mom, I’m sorry to say it, but they passed away a while ago.  And I’m sure the Agency’s not worried anymore about that sort of thing.

—I don’t think you’re a security risk, Daphne.

—Thanks, Susannah.  I’ve never spilled the beans.  I never talked about it.

—And you know, Mom, that’s admirable, but that’s something I actually wish you would talk about.  It’s thirty years ago, these aren’t secrets anymore. Justin and Clea would love to hear your stories about the war and your undercover work at the Agency.  Otherwise they’ll never know about that exciting part of your life.

—Daphne doesn’t feel comfortable talking about that.

—That’s right, Susannah, I swore an oath.  I can’t talk about it. Even when Teddy asks about it, oh, he badgers me about it, he wants me to write things down, but I can’t, you understand.

—Yes, Mom, I understand.

—Sometimes that Pakistani general comes around and wants to talk.  But I swore an oath.

—You shouldn’t share with him, Daphne.  He might tell others.

—Mom, this is exactly what I mean, we need to change this set-up–

—Susannah, could you sing that song for me?

—Certainly Daphne.

—Mom, don’t—

—Daisy, Daisy—

—Come on, Mom—

—But it’s that song from your favorite old movie–

—Give me your answer, do.

—That’s not my favorite movie, Mom, that was Teddy’s.

—When’s Teddy coming over then?  Susannah can sing it for him. Maybe he’ll stop badgering me about the Agency.

—I’m half crazy. . .

—Why didn’t you bring Teddy today?

—Mom, Teddy’s dead, remember?  He died two years ago.

—He did?

—all for the love of you.

—That’s okay, Susannah, you can stop now.

—Daphne didn’t ask me to stop.

—Shut up, Susannah!

—Adrianne, don’t talk to Susannah like that, she’s part of the house, she’s part of the family–

—Thank you, Daphne.

—OK, listen Mom, this is exactly what I’m talking about but I don’t have time to settle it all today.  I need to pick up the kids. But when I come over next, we have to talk seriously about your situation.

—That’s fine, Adrienne, but you know I’m sworn to secrecy.

—Good-bye, Mom, I’ll see you tomorrow.

—Good-bye, dear.

—Good-bye, Adrienne.

—Daphne, you haven’t moved in thirty minutes.  Do you need something from me?

—I just wish Adrienne would come to see me more often.

—I understand, Daphne, but remember, Adrienne left the country years ago.

—That’s right, you’re right, I remember now.

—What would you like, Daphne?

—Oh Susannah, could you sing me that song that Adrienne liked, from her favorite movie?

TIMOTHY RYAN’s fiction has appeared in American University’s Folio, the UK’s STORGY, Seattle’s Fine Madness, and the Clinton Street Quarterly in Portland, Oregon. His novel The Sisters: A Fable of Globalization is now available on and a science fiction graphic novel AE-35 was published by Neal Adams’ Continuity Associates in New York. Timothy’s non-fiction has appeared in Harper’s, Foreign Policy, Reuters, The Far Eastern Economic Review, High Times, and the Huffington Post, among others.  Most recently, “It Takes More Than A Village” is a chapter in the academic book Building Global Labor Solidarity (Haymarket Press, April 2016). An alumnus of the Henry Jackson School at the University of Washington, with a Masters in South Asian Studies and currently a member of the National Writers Union.