17 October 2008

Conceived in Winter

My wife and I both have birthdays in October. Mine was two weeks ago, and hers is next week. People sometimes ask us if the gems in our engagement rings are our birthstones, but they're not.

"Birthdays" was my second story published at 365tomorrows. The plot was inspired by Einstein's twin paradox, but I got the tone from Neil Gaiman's "Chivalry." I think the mashup ends up being slightly more than the sum of its parts.


Audio: "Birthdays"

Still working on the background music. If you know any artists who would be willing to donate some podsafe ambience, please let me know.

I listened to last week's audio post again and realized I'd gone a bit overboard with the voices; i.e., using accents and other funny stuff to distinguish between characters. It's okay on The Simpsons, but not for most narration work.



By Curtis C. Chen

When Stacy was twelve years old, she celebrated her father's thirty-third birthday. It wasn't actually his birthday. It was two weeks before his birthday, but he was leaving on a mission before then, so they had to have the party early.

Stacy thought the party was boring. There were a lot of grown-ups there, drinking smelly drinks that bubbled like soda but tasted bitter. She knew because she stole a sip from her father's plastic cup. He was talking to another grown-up at the time and didn't notice.

"It's only sixteen light-years," he was saying, "but we're not sure how hard we can push the new stardrive."

"And you got that relativity stuff to worry about," said the other grown-up. Except he didn't say "stuff"--he said a bad word.

Stacy ran into the kitchen to find her mother. She was hunched over the sink, alone, her shoulders twitching.

"Mommy?" Stacy said, tugging at her skirt.

Stacy's mother turned to look at her. Her eyes were red, and her cheeks were wet.

"Ready for your bedtime story?" she asked, smiling.

"I'm not sleepy," Stacy said.

"Okay, come on then," her mother said, taking Stacy's hand as if she hadn't spoken.

"Mom," Stacy said. "I said I'm not sleepy."

Her mother squeezed Stacy's hand even harder.


When Stacy was sixty-four, she celebrated her father's fortieth birthday. She barely recognized the man who embraced her as the waitress maneuvered her wheelchair into the restaurant.

"My little girl," he said, his eyes glistening.

The waitress brought a plate of food that Stacy wasn't allergic to. She toasted her father with apple juice. She felt tired halfway through dinner, but pinched her arm under the table to keep herself awake.

After all the other guests had left, the waitress brought a glass of warm milk for Stacy and a cup of coffee for her father. The coffee smelled good.

He asked about Stacy's mother, about how his family had been over the last half century. Stacy told him that her mother, his wife, had remarried. She'd waited after the explosion, when everyone thought her father's ship had been destroyed due to a stardrive malfunction. She'd waited four years, but she couldn't wait forever.

"She never stopped loving you," Stacy told her father. She showed him the family photo that her mother had kept until she died, and which Stacy still carried in her purse. It showed the three of them at the beach, sunburned and laughing. He cried quietly.

When they left the restaurant, Stacy's father helped her into a waiting taxicab. He noticed her coughing and asked about her health.

"I'm old," she said, forcing a smile. She didn't want to tell him about the cancer.

Four days later, Stacy got a call from the space agency. They had found her father dead in his hotel room. He had overdosed on sleep pills, washed down with a bottle of whiskey. They said he hadn't felt any pain. Stacy knew they were wrong.

The note read: "No parent should outlive his child."