Fiction: New by Rae Stringfield

They found the dog on the first day of summer while scavenging the junkyard on the edge of town, searching for discarded hardware and electronics—the type of “garbage,” as Eilo’s moms called it, they’d used to rig engines for their scooters, which were just as fast as the ones sold online now that Sevan had sorted the short-circuiting problem. Yanking a length of wiring from the back of an old refrigerator, Eilo heard whimpering. He followed the sound, scanning the piles of tangled shapes, and met a pair of eyes.

Eilo squatted, held out the back of his hand. “Hey, there.” Ears pressed back, the dog scooted forward and Eilo saw its hind legs drag in the dirt, limp. It leaned its head into his palm, continued to whimper as he scratched behind its ear. “Sevan, get over here!”

“Abandoned,” Sevan concluded moments later.

“Well, we can’t leave him,” Eilo said.

They shoved their loot into backpacks and walked the three miles back to their neighborhood, Sevan pushing their scooters, Eilo carrying the dog, shifting its weight so it wouldn’t slip from his grasp as his arms fatigued.

Sitting on Eilo’s kitchen floor, they coaxed the dog to take a few laps of water from a cereal bowl.

“How about Fio?” Sevan suggested.


“I think that’s what they used to name dogs.”

“Used to when?”

Sevan shrugged. “I’ve seen it on dog bowls.”

“You’re thinking Fido.” Oma appeared at the bottom of the stairs in her long nightshirt, blinking the afternoon light from her eyes. “Eilo…” She rubbed the bridge of her nose, sighed. “What’s going on here?”

By the time Mama got home, New Zyla on her hip and grocery totes slung over her shoulder, Oma had examined and bandaged Fio—“Good Fio,” Eilo whispered into the dog’s ear as Oma’s ointment stung wounds, Fido long forgotten—and sent Sevan home: “You better go, Sevan, sweetie. We need to have a family conversation.”

Eilo took the groceries and New Zyla so their moms could whisper-fight in the other room. “Wanna come pet the doggy?”

“Yes!” New Zyla pumped her little fists into the air.

“No!” Their moms rushed back into the kitchen. “She’s allergic.”

“No she’s not,” Eilo said. “They fixed her, remember?”

“I…” Mama looked at Oma. “I don’t know if that was part of it?”

They left Fio in the kitchen, went upstairs, found New Zyla’s paperwork in the safe. Mama ran her finger down the columns past Genetic Predispositions—Alcoholism: Removed—past Recessive Abnormalities—Cystic fibrosis: Removed—to Sensitivities & Intolerances: Canine dander: Removed.

“Huh,” Oma said.

“Looks like you can pet the doggy, Zyla,” Mama said, then to Eilo, “Be careful. We don’t know that dog.”

“Fio’s sweet,” Eilo said. “I can tell.”

Downstairs, Eilo watched as New Zyla sat on the floor. She tilted her head, reached an index finger slowly forward to stroke the dog’s nose. Fio’s ears flicked up.

“Good Fio,” Eilo said.

“Eilo,” New Zyla said, pronouncing his name correctly in the way that had only recently stopped upsetting him.

When he’d taught New Zyla his name, he’d still thought she was the same. “Eye,” he’d said, pointing to his eye, then, “low,” and gestured toward the floor, just like the first time. And when New Zyla picked it up faster than Real Zyla—who’d had trouble wrapping her baby mouth around the sounds so that it somehow came out one syllable, something like “owl”—he’d thought it was because she remembered. But no, Real Zyla had never said his name right—even at the end, curled in her hospital bed, she’d cooed, “Owl,” when she wanted him to rub her back.

“Yeah?” Eilo asked.

“He live here now?”

“I hope so. Do you like him?”

New Zyla smiled her huge Real Zyla smile, the one that made his heart ache in a happy-sad way he couldn’t explain, and nodded.

“Stay here a minute, New Zyla—Zyla,” he corrected. He called her New Zyla when they were alone, but knew it would hurt their moms to hear him say it because they didn’t know, still thought she was the same—or, wanted her to be. She wasn’t Zyla so he would never call her that, but he needed to call her something. He was watching her over the summer while Mama worked her temp jobs—the ones that made her take out all her jewelry and wear office clothes so she barely looked like herself—and Oma slept off her night shifts; he figured spending more time with New Zyla might help him come up with a nickname. Eilo crept halfway upstairs, listened:

“It’s so small,” Mama was saying, “and Eilo never asks for anything.”

“What does small have to do with it?” Eilo pictured Oma throwing her hands up in frustration like she did whenever he back talked. “We don’t have the time or resources to care for a paralyzed dog.”

Still, when Oma came home from her shift the next morning—Eilo and New Zyla eating cereal, Fio under the table, Mama already at work—she took a baggy from the breast pocket of her paramedic uniform, placed it in Eilo’s palm. “I did some research on the dosage for dogs. Half a pill, twice per day. And he can’t be dragging like this”—looking down at Fio, who’d scooted to lay at her feet—“those wounds will open back up and get infected.” She fashioned an old raincoat into a sling to cradle Fio’s back legs, a band around his chest to pull the weight.

“Thanks, Oma.” Eilo hugged her tightly.

“We decided you can keep him,” Oma said, petting Eilo’s hair. “He’s your responsibility. But listen,” she held his face in her hands, looking serious, “it’s a hard situation so I don’t want you to feel bad if something happens. If something does, we’ll get a new dog since Zyla isn’t allergic anymore.”

“I’m not going to replace you,” Eilo promised Fio after Oma went to bed. He wouldn’t let anyone else get replaced.

They spent the second and third days of summer in Sevan’s garage, New Zyla occupied with Fio, flipping his ears inside out then right again, feeding him kibbles—“Stop eating them!” Eilo kept having to shout at her; “It’s dog food, New Zyla”—while he and Sevan connected a little red wagon to the back of Eilo’s scooter then outfitted stronger breaks. Eilo rode in figure eights in the street, practicing turns with the extra length.

The day before Sevan left for Tech Camp, they sketched a plan for a wheelcart for Fio. On the sixth day of summer, Eilo strapped a helmet over New Zyla’s sun hat, put her and Fio in the wagon, and set off for the junkyard with a list of supplies and two sketches tucked into his pocket: wheelcart plans and the drone build Sevan planned to finish after camp.

He gave New Zyla a juice box and made her stay in the wagon with Fio. New Zyla was three now; Real Zyla would’ve been eight. Only sometimes did Eilo imagine what it would be like now with Real Zyla, because thinking about it made him sad. He pictured Real Zyla on her own scooter zooming around with him and Sevan, the three of them climbing scrap piles and adventuring. With Real Zyla, Eilo had been an older brother. With New Zyla, he was a babysitter: wiping her crumby face after she ate, making sure she didn’t put small things in her mouth and choke, trying not to resent her because she couldn’t help being a copy—which sometimes weirded Sevan out, like when Eilo placed a picture of him and Real Zyla beside one of him and New Zyla, the two Zylas exactly the same but Eilo eight in one picture and twelve in the other.

Hardly anyone at Eilo and Sevan’s school knew a copy. Eilo’s moms said that in the city where they’d lived in the nice condo they sold to afford New Zyla, copies weren’t unusual—they even knew someone raising a copy of their own grandfather, who’d been a famous musician. But here, in this neighborhood he’d once heard Oma call “dumpy” when she didn’t know he was listening, New Zyla was the only copy. Eilo heard rumors at school, of course, like the girl whose parents loved her so much that her sisters were also her—Mischa June, Mischa January, and Mischa September, for the months they were born. One of Eilo’s classmates claimed to have seen them at a restaurant, stair-stepped heights but all dressed the same and with the same hair; they liked each other so much they didn’t talk to anyone else, didn’t need other friends because they were the same, they had themselves.

Only, Eilo knew they weren’t the same.

He didn’t exactly remember what happened to Real Zyla. They’d been at the hospital so long the days blended together, then suddenly he and Mama and Oma were at home just standing in the living room because nobody knew what to do without her there. Eilo knew she’d died in the same vague way he knew his parents had met when Oma worked as a cashier at the market where Mama shopped—embedded in his head even though he didn’t remember being told the story, didn’t remember being there when Real Zyla was alive and then wasn’t. It was the same about New Zyla—his first memory came after they’d copied her, when she was still in Oma’s tummy. He remembered Oma hunched over the toilet throwing up, Mama rubbing her back and Shh Shhing, remembered Oma turning around with some throw-up still on her chin and his shock at her smile—“It’s the same, it’s exactly the same! You said it would be, but I just couldn’t believe it. She’s making me sick at the same time, down to the week—I bet it’s to the day.” When they brought New Zyla home, his moms sat holding her, just staring, sometimes for hours. “Isn’t she going to get sick again?” Eilo had asked. “No,” his moms told him. “The doctors removed the defect. She’s perfect now.”

But she wasn’t. She called him Eilo, not Owl; she didn’t like when he rubbed her back; she smiled so much more than Real Zyla, which seemed especially unfair. When Eilo first realized she was different he had bad dreams, woke up sweating and leapt from bed, ran to the bathroom mirror, checking the scar above his eyebrow he knew a New Eilo wouldn’t have. He wondered if New Zyla knew she wasn’t the same—no one had explained to him how it worked, and it made his stomach feel sick to think about. When they got older, he might ask her.

He hadn’t yet found anything on the supplies list when New Zyla started whining, then screaming. Frustrated, he picked her up, but she was too heavy to carry while he scavenged. He couldn’t put her down because she might wander off, find some sharp thing and hurt herself, so he looked around for something to distract her, something she could play with.

“Look at this!” He picked up a big Z-shaped corner bracket like the ones he and Sevan used to stabilize their scooter charging stands. “It’s shaped like a Z, for Zyla.” He wiped it on his pants—no rust, no sharp edges—then gave it to her, put her back in the wagon.

“Z?” she asked.

“Yep, Z for Zyla.”

Eilo found three wheels, all different sizes, which wouldn’t really work but he deposited them in the wagon anyway.

“This one?” New Zyla asked.

“Wheels,” Eilo said. “Like on a car, you know?” He pet Fio then went back to searching, found some sturdy straps that might be useful and unscrewed the motor fan from the old refrigerator just because it looked cool.

“Eilo, I got wheels!”

Crouched down peering under the body of a rusted-out car, Eilo stood up so fast he whacked his head on the side mirror. New Zyla ran to him wearing her huge Real Zyla smile, shoved a doorknob into his hand.

By the ninth day of summer, New Zyla had learned the names of shapes and followed Eilo around pointing them out in the bulges of scrap for him to extract while Fio waited in the wagon, eyes tracking them around the junkyard and ears perking up when Eilo checked in, “Doing okay, Fio?” They’d found twelve wheels of various sizes, a few lengths of PVC pipe and some elbows, three triangles because New Zyla decided that was her favorite shape, and almost half the items on Sevan’s drone supplies list.

“Hey, Z for Zyla,” Eilo called, holding up a bright traffic cone, “check out this triangle!”

By the eleventh day of summer, they still hadn’t found anything for Sevan’s propeller blades but spent the day at home anyway, New Zyla and Fio napping while Eilo organized, sorting wheelcart pieces into one backpack, drone supplies into another, shoving extras into a big purse he’d borrowed from Mama and Oma’s closet without permission, and stowing it all under his bed. By now Fio’s scrapes had mostly healed, fur beginning to sprout where patches of scabs had been days before. He followed Eilo and New Zyla around the house and ran excited laps when their moms got home from work, sliding along the wood floor so fast New Zyla couldn’t outrun him when they played. Still, Eilo couldn’t wait to build the wheelcart, wanted to run outside with Fio without worrying he’d tear the sling on a rock or scrape it up on the sidewalk.

Sevan got home on the twelfth day of summer and slept the whole day. On the thirteenth day, they spread the wheelcart parts in a circle on the floor of Sevan’s garage, sat in the middle to assemble, New Zyla fetching pieces because she wanted to help. It only took half the day to put together, measuring Fio three times to double-check the dimensions, but still Mama made them wait for Oma to get home before trying it out: “Oma’s best with this stuff. We don’t want Fio to get hurt.”

Sevan showed Oma the sketch and she carefully fit Fio into the wheelcart, coaxed him forward with a piece of bologna until he got the hang of it and wheeled around the living room, running to Eilo for pets then to Oma then to Sevan, around the circle and back again.

“This one?” New Zyla asked, pointing to the wheelcart when Fio came to her.

“Wheelcart,” Eilo told her. Daily she asked for words, and he offered all the ones he could think of. “Curtains,” pointing, somehow enjoying that Real Zyla never did this, that he and New Zyla had something only theirs. “Ponytail holder. Pinky toe. Scar.” He took her finger, touched above his eyebrow.

Fio plopped onto Mama’s knee, panting. She rubbed behind his ear. “What a happy dog you are, Fio.”

“Scar,” New Zyla repeated.

“Good job, Z,” Eilo said.

Mama bent to kiss Fio’s head. “Actually, Eilo,” she said, “it’s a birthmark.” Fio licked up Mama’s nostril, and Eilo listened as everyone laughed.

Rae Stringfield (she/her) is a writer, freelance editorial consultant, and PhD student in University of New Mexico’s Rhetoric & Writing program. She lives with her dog Gavin in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Rae can be found at and on Twitter @Rae_Stringfield.

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