Sometimes he wondered, he worried, that Kenny would take after his mother.

Today's Story


Sweet and Sour Code

By Benjamin Wachs

For a six year old, Kenny’s code was really good.  College level already, Augustus thought.  And it should be:  he didn’t play catch with Kenny, didn’t take him for walks in the park.  But teaching him to code, letting the boy look over his shoulder as he worked, that was a way they could bond.

The sun had gone down:  Augustus hadn’t noticed and Kenny had already learned not to notice.  His son typed carefully, looking over each keystroke, and it took a while because the truth was he wasn’t very strong at reading the alphabet as letters yet.  Teaching him to read, that would take time.  Augustus really only read at TechCrunch, Slashdot, and Boing Boing.  The only books in the apartment were technical manuals.  Kenny’s teachers weren’t concerned:  the boy was strange, but he tested within normal range.  He’d catch up – everybody knew he was smart.

Augustus whistled and patted Kenny on the head as the boy made a particularly tricky line come out shorter than it needed to be:  it would have been easy to fill it with unnecessary commands, but Kenny had seen the way through.  Not only that, but had taken to heart the principle that less is better, that shorter is elegant, that fewer letters and symbols always convey more meaning.    He squeezed his son’s shoulders and tapped the screen.  “This,” he said, “is what makes the world work.”

Kenny nodded, and looked into his father’s eyes.

Augustus tapped his chest, over his heart, and then Kenny’s chest.  “You and me,” he said, “We’re all made of DNA, and DNA is a very simple code.”

Kenny took a deep breath.

Augustus pointed to the window, where it was too dark to see that Central Park was still out in the distance, the trees brilliant scarlet and bright yellow.  Augustus frowned and did a quick search for pictures of Central Park in the fall during the day.  He showed those to Kenny.  “The trees turn colors because the season executed a command,” he said.

Kenny nodded.

“Everything’s information.”  Augustus wished he knew more about DNA and horticulture, so he could explain this better.  This wish was love:  everything he knew about love told in two words.

Kenny rubbed his eyes.  Augustus stood up, let Kenny cling to his shoulder.  “Let’s order Chinese,” he said.  He put Kenny down on the floor.  “Find daddy a menu.”

Kenny ran into the kitchen, eager to order Sweet and Sour Pork:  he always ordered Sweet and Sour Pork.  The fatty meat and the sugary sauce triggered genetic prompts and pleasure centers that Kenny couldn’t resist.  It wasn’t good for him but Augustus was a junk food addict anyway – snacking, skipping meals, often forgetting to go outside.  “I have no business raising a kid,” he told himself, the way most people say “with liberty and justice for all.”

“Found the menu?” he called out.

“No!” Kenny shouted back.

“I have the number on my phone.  Do you know what you want?”

“Sweet and sour pork!” Kenny shouted.

He looked around for his phone.  It was probably on his desk, or next to the couch.

Augustus and Dana hadn’t worked out because Dana insisted that people were people, and trees were trees, and that Kenny had a soul … even before he was born … and wouldn’t give him up.  Augustus had asked her to be reasonable:  they had careers, and apartments in New York are expensive, but she kept the boy.  And Augustus had fallen in love with him at first sight – but it hadn’t brought him any closer to Dana.  The more time he’d spent with Kenny the more resentful she’d gotten:  eventually she accused him of using their son as a tool to get back together with her.  She couldn’t have been more wrong, but she couldn’t see it, and she’d left the city and left him with the child she’d insisted on having.  It wasn’t rational, but it was her.  Sometimes he wondered, he worried, that Kenny would take after his mother.

“Got it!” Kenny shouted, at the same moment Augustus found his phone on the floor by the couch.

“Bring it over!”

Kenny ran back into the den with the green folded paper in his hands.  Augustus took it is his lap, made a show of holding it closely, but didn’t look at it.  He dialed the number from his phone’s memory and ordered sweet and sour pork, vegetable shrimp chow main, and two servings of crunchy pork spring rolls.  He watched Kenny salivate at the order … their usual … and grinned.   Of course the kid couldn’t help himself.  “30 minutes” he said, and Kenny cheered.

“Why don’t you go pick a video game to play until we’re ready?” he asked, and Kenny ran into the living room.  He stood up, walked over to the doorway, and watched his son rampage through the Xbox disks like the world’s worst archeologist.  It made him smile, the way Dana used to, and for a moment he almost thought he could see something like a spirit … a halo, an aura … shining out of Kenny’s body.

But of course there was nothing there.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media,, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at

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