Sweetheart

illustration by greg ruth

This story is also available for download from major ebook retailers.

Paxton is your baby boy, born just after you got out of the army, your peacetime child. He turned six last month but already he’s got a sweetheart who lives next door. He makes her crowns out of dandelions and shares his FruitBlaster cups with her. She brings him marbles that hum and lets him position her antennae into funny shapes. He has a lisp that the speech therapist has given up on, and she has clicking mandibles, but in their invented language of coos and giggles they are both poets. They sit out in the yard and very seriously lay grass on each other’s arms, and the sunlight cocoons them.

You and Denise watch them through the kitchen window.  Denise is an old army buddy and she gets it. All of it.

You say something like, No surprise he’s got a sweetheart already. Just look at his daddy.

Denise laughs rough and loud. Regular little Casanova, isn’t he? Regular little intergalactic Casanova. Damn. And I can’t even get a date.

You want to date an ET?

She shudders. Lord, girl, don’t joke. Then she bites her lip. Nothing against Pax, of course. It’s super cute.

You nod. They’re just babies, I figure. Sweetheart’s a good thing to have.  And he’s a good kid.

She agrees with you and pours the dregs of the margarita pitcher into your glass.

* * *

You take Paxton and Sweetheart to the water park and lie in a chaise while they jump off the foam pirate ship. Only ten minutes before Pax runs up sobbing.

She won’t come up! I yelled and I yelled, but she won’t!

You fly to the edge of the pool terrified the little alien has drowned on your watch, but then you realize she has gills.

Paxton crouches next to you, wiping his nose. Come up, stu-pid, he shouts at the water. Stupid stupid stu-pid.

Don’t say stupid, Pax.  Hush.  She’s okay.

You buy them hotdogs and try not to be disgusted when Sweetheart pincers hers into bits and tucks them into pouches on her sides. Pax trumps her by mashing his entire dog into his cheeks and opening his mouth to display it.

They whisper to each other the whole bus ride home. You realize you don’t even know if Sweetheart is a girl.

* * *

At night with his voice full of sleep Pax asks you what love is, and you blather some nothing about caring for someone very very much. He gets serious in the darkness.

 Okay, so then, I think I love Sweetheart.

 You don’t know why, but you whisper to him, Congratulations.

* * *

Things start to change. On the radio, on TV. Human Pride turns into a big deal with advertisers. Coke does a whole, One People One Planet campaign. The news pundits start asking why so much tax money still goes to the army. It’s been years since there was a conflict, hasn’t it? And don’t we all know where the real threat is? Their voices purr with suggestion, and their eyes flicker toward the sky.

You don’t think Paxton would get what Strategic Containment and Deportation means, but you hide the newspaper headlines from him anyway.

  Jesus, says Denise, it’s happening. Just like that. We over there, look at the ones with the tentacles! She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand. And I know the ones next door seem okay, but I mean, really. You know?

     You do know.

One night police come banging on Sweetheart’s door. Some of the neighbors go out in the street to watch, but you take Paxton into your bedroom and turn the TV up loud. He falls asleep with his head on your stomach. In the morning you say, What the heck, huh. Let’s take a day off school.

     It works until seven that evening, when he gets two Italian ices out of the freezer and says, I’m going over to Sweetheart’s.

     Why don’t you stay in with me tonight? You try to say it real nonchalant,but he catches on. His chin starts to shake.

I’m going over to Sweetheart’s.

Aliens are in some trouble right now, okay? It’s not safe for you.

Is Sweetheart safe?

Something about his look makes you feel guilty, and feeling guilty gets you a little pissed off. Look. Sweetheart went away for a little while. You can make some new friends, how about.  You want to go over to Shira Allen’s? Shira Allen just got a trampoline.

Pax makes a wordless noise and flies to the front door, but it’s locked and with an Italian ice in each hand he’s stuck. He flings himself against the window and leaves snot prints on the glass. 

You spout something like, You’ll understand when you’re older. Bullshit, and you both know it. He stiffens and turns, tear-bright eyes spearing through you. I don’t understand now, he screams. His voice so full of rage it’s like music. I don’t understand now.

He flings an Italian ice at you, and melting strawberry sucrose bursts across your chest.

Love explodes in you, how smart he is, how he was once a part of you but is no longer. You step up so close that the red syrup on your shirtfront smears on him as well.

Get in your room this minute, you hiss. You never talk to me that way again.

He slams his door but doesn’t get it quite right and opens it and slams it again. He’s going to hate you for a couple of days; that’s okay. Hate is nothing, hell, you’ve known love. It stampedes through your veins. You could tell him about it.  You could tell him you had sweethearts, you had cocoons of sunlight too. You could tell him about his father. You could tell him about the long nights in Delta, the dreams and the grit that never came out from under your eyelids. But you won’t.

In the silent hallway you stare at his closed door.  I’m sorry, Pax, you think.  I’m sorry, Sweetheart.  But you’re not.  You’ve seen humans killing humans, and if something can stop that it’s worth it.  It’s worth tantrums.  Worth a first crush.  Worth all the aliens in the universe.

You’d do it even if meant Pax never trusted you again, but he will. He will dry his eyes and open the door. He will grow.  He will take Shira Allen to school dances and eat waffle fries with his friends and make JV football. He will hear talk on the radio of uniting against the alien menace and change it to Top 40 without thinking. He will love the feeling of sun on his limbs.

Once in a while, he’ll remember Sweetheart and freeze on the sidewalk, but after a moment he’ll shake his head and keep walking. He will know without knowing, the one thing greater than love. He will live in a world at peace.

 

Copyright © 2010 by Abbey Mei Otis

21 comments
Richard Fife
1. R.Fife
Well, that was harsh. PNH and Liz, you are all up for some heart-string pullers, aren't ya (thinking of Ponies here, too)?

Not sure what I feel about the conclusion the point of view comes to. After all, is it really a world at peace if we have just entered another race war? Or perhaps that was the point.

I've always had a disconnect of using Aliens or "non-human sentience" to highlight race relations in SciFi. Yes, I see the metaphore just fine as, at the times of bad race relations, the races do think of eachother as "not human, not like me", but in the end, they are wrong.

Yet, a truely different species, that is a harder call to make if they are wrong, I think. A biologically and genetically different intellegence, well, what is to say that there has to be any fundemental ability to co-exist? Just saying.
Actually Dan Guy
2. Actually Dan Guy
Is there a word or characters missing from, "We over there, look at the ones with the tentacles!"?
rob mcCathy
3. roblewmac
I liked it way better than ponies. I was not dead sure where it was going. It could have been "Creepy alien has designs on family" as easily as "bittersweet lovestory"
Actually Dan Guy
4. The other al
I'm disturbed by this story. The beginning is very different from the ending.

Try replacing sweetheart and alien in the story for other-cultured/other-coloured and suddenly for me this starts to read like racist tripe where it's better to stick your head in the sand than help other 'people', or at least explain to your kid what is going on and what is wrong.
Maybe I'm getting the wrong message, or reading it incorrectly, but that is what I'm getting. And I do not like it.
Emma Bull
5. emmabull
#4 The other al, I don't think you're supposed to like it.
Actually Dan Guy
6. nepeta
That was sad.

It read remarkably well for 2nd person, though.
Michael Burke
8. Ludon
I agree with emmabull @5.

I didn't like the outcome of the story but after taking a day to think about it I've realized that I find myself in the position of liking this story because I didn't
like it. There is a lot of truth in this story - even down to the parent thinking - hoping - he's doing the right thing.
Actually Dan Guy
9. Dogpatch
I agree with datlow. BUT . . .
This reminds me of Hitler's method of getting the German
people behind him by blaming the Jews for all the 'wrongs' in Germany.
Using hate and prejudice to justify 'keeping the peace' is wrong
and as in the past - doomed to failure.
Actually Dan Guy
10. tgrignon
I enjoyed the story very much. The POV is perfect the way it is. We're taken along for the ride and really get to see the problem. From the mother's conflicted POV and the child's simple one.

This could grow quite a bit. If it were here's what I'd like to see:
-POV of Sweetheart
-what happens later when they meet in the future. Maybe the aliens have shorter or longer life spans and one or the other realizes it's too late to meet.

I especially liked the "Love explodes in you" just after the "strawberry sucrose bursts across your chest". Very poetic.

Keep up the good work!

Terry
Theresa Gillmore
11. bohemiangeek
Your story captured me straight from the beginning to the end. I felt the love for Pax and the heartache for both characters. I especially like the play of words you chosen. I look forward in reading other stories form you.
T
Actually Dan Guy
12. Gerry__Quinn
I thought the alien was very well done, but the whole equation of "if everyone hates the aliens we will have world peace" was a bit too facile. No reason was given why people might hate the aliens. The concept needs a bit more fleshing out IMO.
Actually Dan Guy
13. Gerry__Quinn
Oops, posted in wrong story, I meant it for 'Sweetheart'

By the way, your first 'Capcha' challenge demanded an umlaut - isn't that a bit much for those of us with English keyboards?
Actually Dan Guy
14. Gerry__Quinn
Ignore me - was the right story ;)
Actually Dan Guy
15. joseflv
You’d do it even if meant Pax never trusted you again, but he will.

Missing an "it" there.
I don't understand why news pundits would talk about defunding the army if there's an extraterrestrial threat. Other than that, this a very tightly written story, with a lot packed into very few words. Well done!
Actually Dan Guy
16. Tony Noland
I agree with another commenter - harsh. It's even moreso for being all too plausible.
Actually Dan Guy
17. queenscarlet88
It saddens me how so many humorless commentators are missing the point of the story entirely. Anyone who could read this story as an endorsement of race-based violence is a fool.

This story is all about the mental contortions a dominator-culture goes through to justify its treatment of the oppressed-culture. It skewers rather than endorses that point of view.

"R Fife" seems to feel that because the analogy doesn't line up perfectly there's some kind of subtle endorsement of racism going on.

"The other al," you are in fact reading the story incorrectly.
Warren Ockrassa
18. warreno
"Once in a while, he’ll remember Sweetheart and freeze on the sidewalk…"

With a teraing ache in his chest that hurts so sharply and so much he's sure he'll die of it, something so acute that it's shattering, unendurable, and somehow a mix of acute sorrow and profound personal shame at being a human, one of the creatures that did such unjustifiable and terrible things to other sentient beings.
Actually Dan Guy
20. Paige Clifton-Steele
Come on! This is no more an endorsement of ethnic cleansing than Ursula Le Guin's The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, is. Actually, I think that story is a perfect point of reference--both that and Otis' point at the holocaust at the heart of so many of SF's "utopias" which have been written so brutally hetero, or white, or ablebodied or whatever, that you gotta ask: what the hell happened to everybody else?
Actually Dan Guy
21. ArianaSedai
Great story. It's too bad some readers are missing the point.
Sumana Harihareswara
22. brainwane
Thanks for this story. Dismaying in just the right ways.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment