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Everything There Is to Love on Earth

Story by Lyndsie Manusos (Read author interview) June 18, 2018

Photograph by SmokeLong Quarterly

It’s time for parent-teacher conferences at McHenry Middle School! Please fill out this survey and send it back to school with your child before your scheduled conference.

— Mrs. Campbell


My Child’s Attitude About School Is:

I’ll start with my first concern, and it’s off topic about attitude, so I must be no better than some of your students. We’ll get to attitude in a moment.

Zoe is not my child. She’s my son’s. My daughter-in-law’s. It should be them filling out this form, but they saw fit to leave this world. Mind you, this isn’t some spiritual purge. You’ve seen it on the news. Pairs shot off into space. Volunteers for the next phase of humanity. Into the Reaches, they call it. My son chose the reaches over my granddaughter, Mrs. Campbell. My son chose the universe over progeny. The ultimate sacrifice dancing with ultimate selfishness. I receive fan mail by the piles calling this act “courageous.” Are you one of those fans? Have you told Zoe that her parents have done a great thing, a great thing indeed?

Now I’m stuck with a volcanic granddaughter, and can you blame her for such eruptions, Mrs. Campbell?

With anger, we now come to attitude. This might be what you call one of those “transitions.” Believe it or not, I do read the notes you make in ghastly orange pen on Zoe’s homework.

My granddaughter’s attitude is jaw-breaking, as I’m sure you’ve noticed. I received your phone calls, Mrs. Campbell, and I choose not to return them. We both know why she’s expressing herself in this, as you say, “torrid” way. You reported she carved her name into her desk, the tables, and some chair legs. Sometimes she’ll use a screw or nail to get through the plastic or metal. She does the same thing at home. The sewing stool that belonged to my mother is riddled with her name. Her parents left, so how does she know her name is hers? Who is there to say “you’re mine”? This might be my job now, but my word alone is nothing. Zoe needs to find her name again, or produce a new one. I wouldn’t be surprised if–as carve begets carve–a new name is formed.

I’ve Seen Strengths in My Child’s Progress in These Areas:

Zoe’s full name, Anthozoa, comes from the Class Anthozoa, a variety of animals that polyps with a flower-like appearance. That definition comes from Wikipedia, which I doubt you’d appreciate, Mrs. Campbell. My daughter-in-law gave Zoe her name. They lived in Florida before they shipped Zoe up here. They loved coral. They loved to swim. Anthozoa, to them, embodied everything they loved about Earth.

Anthozoans include sea anemones, a variety of corals, sea fans, and sea pens. Some have a symbiotic relationship with animals like hermit crabs. Zoe eerily resembles her given name. She is flower-like, and she depends on symbiotic relationships. She’ll reciprocate love if given love (don’t all children?). She will emit light if light is given. You must see it. I see it, feel it, every day. In between every seismic toss of name-carving, purity abounds.

I Have Concerns About My Child’s Progress in These Areas:

I was always concerned about my son. He was dormant in emotion for a while but had volcanic tendencies that Zoe inherited. Perhaps you understand the true nature of the word “concern.” The word can mean “worry/anxious” but also “something of great importance.” As a parent, these definitions roll into one.

When my son told me he and his wife were leaving, and that I was to raise Zoe, I smacked him. I had never hit my son as a child, but there was no better time for a show of strength. He nodded after, his cheek flushed, and said “I understand this is hard to process.” His head was already in the reaches, Mrs. Campbell. I had no say in the matter. I accepted guardianship, and I still receive those goddamn letters thanking me for my service to the wonders of humanity.

Did you know that the species Anthozoa live somewhere between five years and several centuries, if given the chance? However, I’d read even the Great Barrier Reef is in decay, that we are bleaching our reefs raw until they pale and are plagued. Zoe mentioned how passionate you are about the environment. Is it true you have three compost bins? I tip my hat to you, for I can no longer abide by the scent of decay since my son’s departure.

Further Topics to Discuss:

I enjoy your name, Mrs. Campbell. It reminds me of the soup cans, which was a staple during my childhood. My mother made soup because it was easy and cheap. I used to dip crisp toast into every bowl. Despite some of my objections to your methods, whenever Zoe mentions your name or I peruse the notes you send home, I can’t help but feel warmth in my chest, as if I had just eaten a bowl of soup. Your name reminds me of more peaceful times, but I suppose everyone looks back on their childhood in a state of golden innocence. I wonder if Zoe will do the same, or if everything for her has been complicated from the start. Names are important, regardless of whether we choose them. Your name reminds me of soothing soup, whereas my surname is German for “Old House.” You probably think my surname is apt, as I must come across a little old-fashioned or at the very least, a bit out of touch. The truth is I am an old house. The world is an old house. And we old houses must stick our roots in the ground and hold steady as long as we can. Anywhere between five years and several centuries, wouldn’t you say? The length of time our Anthozoa can make an imprint on this world, build reefs, and replenish.

About the Author

Lyndsie Manusos’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Passages North, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family and writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

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