Filial Daughter


(Filial Daughter was published in Anotherealm in September 2006.  Enjoy this excerpt.)


Nathan was staring at his daughter.  He often stared at his daughter.  He stared at her as she worked the toothpaste around each and every tooth and methodically spooned five Cheerios at a time into her mouth.  He stared at her as she carefully arranged the mind blocks into intricate shapes and symbols.  And, of course, every morning, he watched her log on to school — her eyes moving under shaded VR glasses, her mind filling with images that he would never know or possibly understand.  Sometimes, especially when she was working at school, tears would fill his eyes because he knew that, at two years old, she was the most amazing thing in the universe.

“I learned Italian today,” she would announce quite gleefully after a two-hour session, and then without a breath’s pause she would begin reciting the first Canto of Dante’s Inferno until mother stopped her.  Nathan never would.  He would let her go on and on, the beautiful and meaningless words flowing off her tongue like water from the fountains of Rome.

Mathematics and language acquisition were the cornerstones of a two-year-old’s education, but physical coordination was also important.  Nathan would always remember the day that Chelsea first strapped on her skates and performed a triple toe-loop, and the afternoon when Chelsea sat down at a baby-grand for the first time and played the complete cycle of The Goldberg Variations from memory.

Talent, according to the information blurb on the inside of Chelsea’s first report card, was simply a matter of establishing the proper neural connections at the right stage of mental development.  Mozart, Shakespeare, Einstein — when it happened by accident, it was called natural genius.  When it happened by design, it was called education.  It was staggering to Nathan that all of this potential lay dormant in the human brain, virtually unused and unexplored until modern man finally learned how to tap it.

Nathan realized that his daughter was by no means an exceptional child. Nathan and Margaret Bernhart had wanted the best for their daughter, and so, like all the other well meaning, socially conscientious parents, they had logged their daughter on to Public School at the ripe old age of six months.  Little Chelsea had had preschool since birth, but that was mostly baby stuff like potty training, gross motor skills, simple mathematics — and it was only two hours a day, leaving the afternoons free for mommy and daddy to bond with their child.  The really serious education didn’t start until she could at least walk and talk, and then the program would take over, feeding her knowledge and skills training as fast as her mind could absorb it.

From time to time, Nathan would log on to Chelsea’s classes to see what was up, but after only a few seconds, he was completely lost.  It was like playing a game but the patterns and shapes came too quickly and randomly until it was all just snow.

“You should know better,” his wife told him.  “We were raised on Disney and Japanese cartoons.  Our brains are hard-wired.  We can’t learn that fast anymore.” She turned away to fold Chelsea’s panties.  “We’re dinosaurs, Nate.”

“I was just curious.  She’s learning so fast.  Calculus.  Astrophysics.  She’ll be a genius in no time.”

“Yeah, so will everybody else.  I guess that’s what our country needs, more geniuses so we can outsmart the competition and rule the world.”  Margaret folded in silence as if she’d said nothing.  She had a way of knowing something without actually knowing it and saying something without actually saying it that drove her husband crazy.  She stayed silent until the last of the little panties was folded and there was no more excuse for her to avoid her husband’s eyes.  Then she looked at him, wearily, and spoke.  “I know she’s learning fast, but is she learning the right stuff?”

“There’s no set curriculum, Marg.  You know that.  She’s learning whatever she wants to learn.  What’s wrong with that?”

“Is she learning how to be a decent human being?  I was in the mall the other day when Chelsea suddenly started talking to this other two-year-old, but not in any language I could recognize.  It didn’t even sound human, more like two computers talking to each other.”

“Oh, Marg, you’re just being paranoid.”

“Am I?  When was the last time Chelsea gave you a hug or a kiss or even cried?”

“Listen to yourself.  Something’s wrong because she’s independent and happy.”

“I didn’t say she was happy.  She never laughs anymore, either.”

Nathan could feel the room grow warm.  They’d had this conversation before, not the same words, but the same conversation, and it always ended the same way — in stalemate.


Publishers:  If you have enjoyed this excerpt and would like to consider the complete 2600 word story for publication in your magazine, please email me.


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