Of Sight, Of Mind, Of Heart is one of those short stories that should come with a warning: don’t read in public; guaranteed to make you cry. Guaranteed to make me cry, anyway, and it’s a pretty solid rule that I do love a story that grabs my heart strings and embarrasses me in public.
Samantha Murray’s award-winning short story is shameless. It’s another story that makes effective use of the second person present, the immediacy probably more painful because I’m in my 30s; 20 years ago – even 10 – I might have rejected the imposition of maternal instincts.
It starts with a birth, and a name. You call him Ben, even though the nurse thinks it’s a bad idea. Inevitable, but not for the best. It sets the tone, the not-quite-normal, then runs with it: the little details are recognisable, mundane even – but always accompanied by something off-beat.
Split into months, I still didn’t immediately twig to – or accept – the actual time-frame over which the story is told. Ben isn’t your average baby, and he isn’t experiencing a normal childhood. Yet ‘you’ are a normal mother: a bundle of feelings, some of them unexpected, most of them overwhelming.
And in the end – the inevitable, unavoidable end – Ben grows up. The devastating poignancy is how fast he grows, how soon he is ready to go into space. The story homes in on the parental conflict of seeing your children leave home and move on; the tragedy is how little time you have with them.
Yes, it’s sentimental. Yes, it’s manipulative. And yes, it’s excellently done. Heart strings are there to be played on. Bravo.
Of Sight, Of Mind, Of Heart can be read online at Clarkesworld. It was recently awarded the Best SF Short Story at the 2016 Aurealis Awards.
Photo by sebagee.