“It’s as simple as this,” said James. “Seven thousand days until Samantha’s twentieth birthday. How many of them will be good days? How many will be average? How many will be boring? How many will be the worst days of her life?” The rest went without saying. James had the week’s drawn in long lines across his face, his bloodshot eyes and the way he sat boneless on his chair. On her worst days, during that moment of blinding, hormone-fuelled emotion–whether it’s hate, or rage, or despair–what happens?
Laura tried not to think about that. She’d spent the last nine months not thinking about that, because being pregnant was supposed to make her happy, not worried. Not afraid. But none of her dreams about her children had involved them moving objects with their minds.
Samantha, barely a week old, was finally asleep in her room. She felt it as well, the exhaustion pulling on her like extra gravity. She did not know what James saw when he looked at their child, but she was sure it was not the same as what she saw. He spoke about her as if she were a force of nature in repose, a bomb waiting to be primed.
“She is very strong, Laura.” James said, and covered his mouth while a yawn escaped. “I have to stay with her and use everything I have just to keep her from destroying the room.” He lifted a mug of coffee, drank mechanically, put the mug back down with a grimace. “Eventually, she will be able to overpower me. Hopefully I’ll have taught her basic control by then. I think I can manage that. But, even then, I won’t always be there.”
“You act like she’s already a monster,” said Laura, not quite able to keep an accusing tone from her voice.
“I’ve told you I have no regrets,” he said. “That hasn’t changed. I’m just trying to be realistic.”
They sat there for a while. Laura tried to drink some cold tea, but it tasted metallic no matter how much sugar she added. She pushed her cup away, and asked the question she had been holding back for years, ever since James had shown her that he could lift a car without moving a finger. “What about you? You were in your twenties when we met. How did you make it?”
James took so long to answer that she thought he might have fallen asleep. Eventually, his eyes cracked open, and he reached for his coffee again. Tired as he was, she noticed that he still used his hand instead of his mind, though he had told her it was usually easier to do such simple things remotely. “I never told you about my father,” he said.
“Was he also like you?” she asked.
“No,” said James. “That was my mother. She died when I was still too young to walk. Which meant that my father had to raise me alone.” He shook his head, eyes glazing over with memory. “When I was six or so, a hornet stung me. So I picked up an entire oak tree, roots and all, to find the nest. Then I crushed the nest and the tree down to the size of a baseball. My father saw that, and he beat me so badly I was in bed for two days. As awful as that sounds, I never did something like that again. At least not in public, not anywhere where anyone could see.” He looked directly at Laura. “Would you be able to do what he did?”
“No,” said Laura, without hesitation. She could not even imagine it.
“Neither could I.” James’s eyes closed again. “I grew up hating my father every day he was alive. But now I think I understand him. He was scared. He was trying to keep me safe without knowing how. I believe in my heart that he did not mean to hurt me. My father was not a bad man, and as far as I know, he died thinking that I hated him.” In the thin, yellow light of the single lamp they had left on, Laura could see that James’s cheeks were damp. “Even if –,” he said, then broke off when his voice cracked. “Even if I could hurt her, I could not live like that.”
Laura moved to sit next to him, and he leaned against her so that she could wrap her arms around him. “There has to be another way,” she told him.
“It’s her, too,” he said, looking up at her face. “Imagine you spend your entire life with an Uzi, fully loaded and the safety off. It’s not in a holster, either. It’s in your hand, and you can feel the trigger. All the time. How long until you use it? Now imagine that same Uzi, except you’re a teen-aged girl, or just an angry kid who doesn’t know any better.”
A chill ran down Laura’s spine. On her worst days, in her worst moments, what might she have done? “But what about you? You have it under control.”
“I was alone for nine years after my father died. You know I still have nightmares. Most of that’s from the first couple of years. That’s what I mean. I have to live with everything I’ve done. If that Uzi ever goes off, that’s part of her, forever. That one slip, and something happens that can’t be taken back. Made it seem like a catch-22. Either you have the disciplinarian to hate, or you end up hating yourself for not having the discipline when you need it.”
“We can move,” Laura suggested. “We can get far away from people.”
“It’s an option,” James agreed, “but what kind of life would that be?”
“It would be a life.” Laura had always considered herself a city girl, but she knew she could make such a small sacrifice for her daughter’s sake.
“I know,” he said, squeezing her hands, and then pushing away from her. “It was martial arts that did it for me, after my father was gone. I learned physical skills, and what it means to be strong. How to use strength, when to use it.”
“You could teach her.”
“I will teach her, as soon as she can stand. And then she spends half her life living alone with her parents, training like a monk. After that? Do we keep her there forever? Do we deny her friendship, love, sex? If she wants to leave, do we stop her? Can we stop her?”
“Most fathers would be jumping at the chance to keep their daughters locked away from sex for that long,” Laura said, but there was no real humour in the words.
“If she wants to live a normal life what does she do when she has no formal education or even normal social experience?”
They lapsed into silence again after that, each trying to weigh possibilities and risks and potential happiness in their heads. When the crying started up in the baby’s room they both woke with groggy reluctance.
Samantha had knocked over a shelf and set a pile of colourful toys to bouncing around her small room. James began to grab stuffed toys and soft rubber shapes from the air. He had insisted that they not give her anything hard enough to be a physical risk to herself or to them, but with enough momentum even a teddy bear could bruise, as both of their bodies could attest. He had his hands up, fingers spread, and the toys froze in the air. He nodded to Laura, and she went quickly to the crib and picked Samantha up. Laura rocked the baby gently and hummed tunelessly until the crying stopped. James finished putting everything away. Her daughter felt so warm. A tiny sun, the centre of their universe, what gave light to their lives. Their daughter was so strong.
“What if she didn’t have to suppress her abilities?” Laura wondered aloud while she watched the most beautiful eyes she had ever seen close. She set Samantha back into the crib and ushered James from the room. “What if she didn’t have to hold back?” she continued once they were far enough away to speak.
“In what way?” asked James.
“Every parent wants their kid to succeed, to be all that they can possibly be and more. James, I don’t want her to live a life of fear or regret. I don’t want her to live a life of hiding or shame. She deserves to have everything she wants, without holding herself back. And she could. She could have anything.” Laura looked at James’s tired face and could see that he felt the same as she did. “You were taught that you were cursed, it seems. It’s not a curse, though, James.”
“It’s power. It’s dangerous,” said James. “I mean, all power is dangerous, to a degree, but she will be able to literally kill people with her mind.”
“Think about it like this,” said Laura, “if she turned out to be an amazing pianist, and we could get her into the best music school available, would we? Of course we would. If we knew that meant some other kid wouldn’t have a spot, would that change anything? Would that effect our decision at all?”
“What are you trying to say?”
The cold light of the dawning sun was beginning to filter through the windows, shifting and softening the shadows in the room. James saw Laura cast in pale ivory. She looked beautiful to him in quiet moments like that, when he saw her strength. It shone like a beacon to him, it was what had made him stand still long enough to know her after years of running. She would do whatever it might take. If their daughter inherited even a portion of that strength, what could she accomplish? Ultimately, that would have to be Samantha’s decision, but it could be a decision made from a position of power, of dignity, not one made from a position of rough, dirty desperation, like so many of his had been.
He drifted away. In his dream he saw a woman who at one moment cast a shadow so large it covered the world, and at another held a light in her hands that was so harsh and bright that he had to look away. She stood as a statue, as a monolith that demanded attention, until he felt her standing next to him. She reached a hand up, and he felt small, delicate fingers wrap around his own. He looked down and saw only a little girl with large, dark eyes that watched him with patient expectation.
Laura’s answer to his last question lingered in the background. “If some people get crushed along the way, then the rest will learn to clear a path.”