11 December 2009

"The Stories We Tell Ourselves"

By Curtis C. Chen

Gerald stirred his coffee, waiting to change the world.

The front door of the cafe swung open, and the bell jingled. A bald man wearing an overcoat entered and looked around.

Gerald waved. The man walked to the corner table.

"Gerald Mortman?" the man asked.

"That's me."

The man sat down. "Carl Point. Thank you for meeting me."

Gerald held up his hand. "You want some coffee? I ordered you a cup."

He nodded at the table, where a second mug had appeared in front of Carl.

"That wasn't there before!" Carl said.

"Just a small demonstration," Gerald said.

"Incredible." Carl looked around the coffee shop. "What happens if someone's watching when things change?"

"Nothing changes," Gerald said. "This is how it's always been."

"But I remember—"

"You'll forget soon enough," Gerald said. "Everyone does. Everyone except me." He leaned forward. "We don't have much time."

"Okay," Carl said. "It's my daughter, Emily. She passed away recently. Leukemia. She was five years old."

Gerald started pulling back. "I think you've misunderstood—"

"Just say she didn't die, say she's cured." Carl grabbed Gerald's arm. "I'll pay anything."

"I don't want money," Gerald said.

"Four words. 'Your daughter didn't die.' Simple."

"It's never simple, Mr. Point."

Carl reached under his coat and pulled out a revolver. Gerald heard gasps and murmurs all around. People moved away from the table.

"Say my daughter's alive," Carl said. "Say it!"

"Your daughter is alive, Mr. Point," Gerald said. "She's standing right behind you."

Carl stood, keeping the revolver trained on Gerald, and turned to see a teenage girl with curly brown hair. She was shaking.

"Please, Daddy," she said, "put down the gun."

Carl's head whipped back around to Gerald. "What the hell is this? That's not my daughter!"

"This isn't my story," Gerald said. "This is your story."

"Daddy!" the girl sobbed. "It's me! Allie!"

"Allison?" Carl's face went pale. "My God. You're all grown up."

"You have to stop, Daddy," Allie said.

"Look at your hair. Just like your mother's," Carl said. "God, we were both so young. We couldn't afford to raise a child..."

His arm fell just a little, and Gerald spoke.

"I'm glad you didn't bring a gun, Mr. Point. Some people get upset when I can't help them. Thank you for being reasonable."

Allie was gone, and so was the revolver. Carl looked down at Gerald, his face blank, waiting for the rest of the story.

"I'm glad you've finally accepted your daughter's death."

Carl sat down. "It's been very difficult."

"Go home, Mr. Point. Spend some time with your family. If you ever need to talk, you know how to find me."

Gerald extended his hand, and Carl shook it. "Thank you, Mr. Mortman. I think I'm going to be okay."

"I know you will be."

The bell rang as Carl walked back into the cold.

Gerald took out his notebook and started writing. He had lied to Carl. If he didn't write down all the stories, he would forget them, too. And he wanted to remember.


Photo taken at Charlotte Nature Museum, June, 2008.

This story is dedicated to Bayla. May she rest in peace.