By Jim Bates
Sandra Mason was a studious girl who took life seriously, much to the joy of her father, Wallace, a physics teacher at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m so proud of Sandy,” he said, coming down the stairs after telling his seven-year-old daughter good night. “She’s just like I used to be at that age.” He grinned at his wife and Sandy’s mother, Maria, then noticed the frown on her face. “What? What’s up? Aren’t you?”
Maria was also employed by the University. She taught American Literature with an emphasis on Emily Dickenson, but she was less thrilled about her daughter’s academic bent than her sometimes overbearing husband. “The problem, Wally, is that she’s too into her books. She’s too into her learning. She saw a video today where the radioactive isotope strontium 90 was mentioned and it worried her enormously. I’m surprised she didn’t mention it to you.
Wally was a short man and rather pudgy from lack of exercise. He had thinning hair and a wisp of a moustache. At five foot eight inches, he was as tall as Maria.
He sat down on the couch next to his wife. “Well, she did mention it when I was up there just now.”
“What’d you tell her?”
“I told her not to worry about it.”
Maria closed the book she was reading and let out an exasperated sigh, “See that’s what I mean.”
“Just saying not to worry won’t make her not worry. She gets a hold of an idea and it won’t go away. Like a dog with a bone.” Maria quickly got to her feet.
“Where are you going?” Wally asked.
“I’m going to see how she’s doing.”
Wally shook his head. “You don’t have to bother. Trust me, she’s fine.”
Maria looked down at him, “That’s what you always say, but she’s a sensitive girl.”
“She’s also brilliant. I don’t want to be the one responsible for stifling her mental growth.”
“Oh, I doubt you’ll do that.” She sat down again, thinking, it’s time we had a talk.
“Now what’s that supposed to mean?”
“Look, I think it’s great you take her places like the History Center.”
“She loved the exhibit on Minnesota and how it was settled by early pioneers.”
“I know. She told me you had a great time.”
“And the Bell Museum of Natural History over at the campus?”
“Yes, I know. She loves the dioramas.”
“And the Minneapolis Institute of Art?”
“Yes, she loves it there, especially the Impressionists. She loves The Seaside at Sainte-Adresse by Monet. She’s told me that many times, Wally. She loves all that stuff.”
“Well, what then, Maria?” His exasperation was evident. “What could possibly be such a big deal if she’s interested in some of the same things I’m interested in. Huh? Tell me.”
Ignoring his question, Maria got up and went into the kitchen. She needed a minute to collect her thoughts. “I’m going to make some tea. You want some?”
Wally was quick to his feet and followed close behind. “No, but I’m going to have some of this.” He opened a cupboard about the refrigerator and took down a bottle of scotch. He poured himself two fingers and downed it in two gulps.
Maria watched. She hadn’t planned on having this discussion. It was Sunday night and all she wanted was to relax, read, watch the ten o’clock news and go to bed. She had a lecture on Emily Dickenson’s poem Tell the Truth but Tell it Slant tomorrow and she wanted to be on her game.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” she told him.”
“Drink like that.”
“I’m not ‘drinking like that,’” he said mimicking her rather high voice.
Maria sighed. This was not going well. They’d tried for years to start a family before she finally got pregnant at the age of thirty-eight. She’d been able to carry the baby full term and Sandra was born without a problem. Granted, at just under five pounds, she could have weighed more, but that was beside the point. Having the child they’d always dreamed of was the main thing.
From the start, Wally had been relentless in his pursuit of pushing her to be not just intelligent but a prodigy as well. Hence the violin lessons, which, of course, she excelled at. There was no doubt in Maria’s mind that their daughter was talented, none at all. But sometimes (like now) she was concerned they were pushing her too hard with too much too fast.
The whistling tea kettle interrupted her thoughts. She put a bag of chamomile into a cup and poured water over it, watching the liquid turn light green in color, thinking of Sandy and what a wonderful girl she was. She had light brown, shoulder length hair, amber eyes, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose. She was tall for a seven-year-old and slender and liked clothes with pink or purple in them. Just thinking of their daughter caused her to smile.
Maria looked at Wally. They’d married right out of college. It was a good marriage and she was very happy with him. She just needed to work harder at balancing her husband’s assertive nature with the fact that Sandy was not one of his graduate students.
. Maria took her tea to the table and sat down. “So, what else did Sandy want to talk to you about? Or was it just strontium 90?
After his initial outburst, Wally had calmed down. He’d put the scotch away and was sipping on a glass of ice water. He looked up and smiled, “No, just strontium 90.”
Maria took a sip of her tea and felt herself relaxing. She’d much rather talk than argue. “Wasn’t that a big deal back in the fifties?”
“Yeah, it was formed when they were doing all that nuclear testing back then. It’s highly radioactive and traces of it started appearing in milk and even people’s teeth. Not enough to do any harm really, but the point was it was not a good thing. It quit showing up when they stopped doing all that testing in the early sixties.”
“And our daughter wanted to know about it?” Marie smiled and shook her head. She liked talking to her husband like this. They needed to stay on the same page with each other, because one thing was certain, it was definitely different having a kid who was more interested in learning about science than playing video games like the children of so many of their friends. “Anything else?”
“Yeah. She wanted to know if it was good or bad for us.”
“What’d you tell her?”
“I told her strontium as an element was okay. It had been safely used in early television sets for their cathode ray tubes. I showed her what one looked like on my phone. An early CRT. She was interested.”
Maria laughed and sipped her tea, “I’m sure she was.”
Suddenly there was a motion and they both looked up. Sandy was standing at the door leading into the kitchen.
Maria spoke first. “Sweetheart. What are you doing up? Are you feeling okay?”
Sandy ran across the floor and got into her mother’s lap. “I’m fine, Mom. I just wanted to show you this.” She held out a handful of stickers, figures of ghosts from one of her favorite sticker books. “Daddy was telling me about them.”
Puzzled, Maria looked at Wally. He grinned sheepishly, “I told her that strontium was used to help things luminesce. It doesn’t cause any harm. It’s just…” He looked at his young daughter, “What did we say it was?”
Sandy held up the stickers and giggled and said, “We said that it was very cool.”
Wally smiled at his daughter and looked at Maria, hoping she wasn’t too angry with him.
She wasn’t. “I’m glad your daddy and you had a good talk,” Maria said, smoothing her daughter’s hair. It felt good to be together like this. Like the family she always imagined them being. Just talking. Even though it was about strontium 90.
Then she had an idea. “How about if we turn off the lights and see how those stickers work?”
Sandy clapped her hands. “Oh, goody. Can we? Can we?”
Wally looked at Maria and smiled, “It’s your mom’s idea and I think it’s a great one.”
Wally got up and turned off all the lights and rejoined them at the table. The little family sat in the darkened kitchen and watched the stickers glowing a subtle light green that in its own way was like watching a magic show. Sandy giggled with joy, Wally grinned, reached across the table and took his wife’s hand. Maria squeezed it in return and smiled. Deep down, she appreciated the little things in life and right now, having her family together like they were was about the best thing she could ever imagine. In fact, she’d never been happier. Not only that, she had to admit, those glow in the dark stickers were really pretty cool. In fact, they were very cool.
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories have appeared online in CafeLit, The Writers’ Cafe Magazine, Cabinet of Heed, Paragraph Planet, Nailpolish Stories, Ariel Chart, Potato Soup Journal, Literary Yard, Spillwords and The Drabble, and in print publications: A Million Ways, Mused Literary Journal, Gleam Flash Fiction Anthology #2 and The Best of CafeLit 8. You can also check out his blog to see more: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com.