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The Perfect Coordinates to Raise a Child

Barbara A. Barnett is a writer, musician, graduate student in library and information science, orchestra library intern, Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate, coffee addict, wine lover, bad movie mocker, and all-around geek. In addition to Daily Science Fiction, her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Fantasy Magazine, and Shimmer. Barbara lives with her husband in southern New Jersey, frequently bursts into song, and can be found online at babarnett.com.

Stacie Mitchell moved as fast as her pregnant lady waddle would allow, determined to keep up with Geraldine and the woman's twelve-year-old daughter, Anne. Stacie had a not-so-sneaking suspicion that Geraldine was pushing her this hard on purpose. It would certainly be in keeping with the homeowner association's motto: no sacrifice is too great to see your child's potential fulfilled. Geraldine made a point of showing off her sacrifice, sporting a gaudily beaded eye patch over the eye she had given up to "make my little Anne here the best she can be."
Geraldine stopped in front of a Victorian-style home--creamy beige with trim of robin's egg blue. "This is where the Hendersons live. Charming, don't you think?"
"Latitude 39.872054," Anne said after a prodding look from her mother. "Longitude -75.003338."
Stacie punched Anne's coordinates into her phone, then waited for the mapping app to pull up the location. Result: the exact address at which they stood. The kid genius was right. Again.
"Little Rosalie Henderson can play any song she hears," Geraldine said. "Perfectly, after only one hearing."
Indeed, the sounds of a Mozart piano concerto drifted through an open window, played with an expert level of precision. Stacie closed her eyes, let the music fill her like nothing else could. So many years of practice, and yet Stacie couldn't come anywhere close to the artistry this child was achieving.
"How old is Rosalie?" Stacie asked.
"Five," Geraldine said in that overly peppy way of hers. "She shares a birthday with my little William. He's a violinist, did I tell you? He and Rosalie will be performing together at Carnegie Hall next month."
"What did it take to get a musical prodigy?"
"They took an ear each from the Hendersons. Poor things can't hear Rosalie's playing as well as they'd like. But me..." Geraldine rapped her knuckles on her lower left leg, producing a hard, hollow sound. "They try to go easier on you when it's your second child. And it's just amazing what they can do with prosthetic limbs now, don't you think?"
Stacie felt a twinge of nausea at the thought of moving here. What if the homeowner's association asked her for a finger, a hand, or even a whole arm? She couldn't imagine not being able to play piano again, even if she'd never play nearly as well as Rosalie Henderson. But what if her own child could? Stacie couldn't help but wonder what she might have accomplished if her parents had been willing to sacrifice the way the people in this neighborhood did.
Geraldine clapped her hands in delight and pointed to another house. "Oh, Tina Burke, you must get to know her. A single mother, just like you. Her daughter is eight now, but she was only six when she painted the house. Marvelous, don't you think?"
The house in question was painted on all sides with a mural of Times Square, so vibrant in detail and color that the lights seemed to be pulsing. Stacie could almost hear the taxicabs honking.
"Anne, darling," Geraldine said, "aren't you going to give Ms. Mitchell the coordinates?"
With Geraldine prattling on so much, Stacie had almost forgotten the woman's daughter was with them. Poor Anne stood with her shoulders stooped, her face drooping with a sad, basset-hound-like expression.
"Don't be shy, darling," Geraldine said in a chiding tone. "Your father and I gave up a lot in order for you to have such a gift. It would be selfish of you not to share it."
"Latitude 39.872515," Anne finally mumbled. "Longitude -75.00514."
Stacie didn't bother to check if she was right this time.
"It's so unpredictable," Geraldine said. "What talent will manifest, what the price of it will be. But the results are so extraordinary, don't you think?"
"Extraordinary," Stacie said, though hesitation crept into her voice as she studied Anne. The girl looked as if she would much rather be off playing with other little kids instead of being extraordinary for a stranger.
Geraldine continued down the sidewalk, babbling about homeowner association fees and how Stacie wouldn't have to worry about neighbors with cheap pink flamingoes on their lawn. Stacie tried to keep up, but Anne tugged on her sleeve.
"What is it, hon?" Stacie asked.
Anne cast a nervous glance at her mother, who strode on obliviously ahead, then whispered, "Latitude 40.025728, longitude -74.957805. I think that'd be a great neighborhood for a kid."
"Anne, dear," Geraldine called back to them, "you know better than to dawdle and pester."
"I was giving Ms. Mitchell the coordinates of the house she should live in," Anne said. "She was just about to look them up."
Stacie raised her phone, giving it an exaggerated waggle for Geraldine to see. With the poor kid being paraded like a show dog, the least Stacie could do was play along.
Geraldine beamed at Anne with her large-toothed smiled. "That's my good girl."
Anne repeated the coordinates, and Stacie entered them into her mapping app. She let out a small gasp of surprise at the result: her current home address in Hampton, several towns away. Was Anne telling Stacie not to move here?
"The perfect place to raise a child," Geraldine said, gesturing to the neighborhood with a grand sweep of her arms. "Don't you think?"
Stacie stared at the address on her phone, then at Anne, who looked at her with wide, pleading eyes, too old for their years. The girl was probably more interested in toys and playgrounds than she was in latitude and longitude and whatever other calculations Geraldine made her show off. Suddenly, the thought of losing a hand wasn't what frightened Stacie about moving there.
"Yes," Stacie finally said, though to Anne instead of Geraldine. "I think those are the perfect coordinates to raise a child."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

Author Comments

Sometimes I wonder how much more I could have excelled at certain things if my parents had just pushed me. There's this persistent notion that I could have been really extraordinary at one thing instead of being competent at several things. But then I see examples of how emotionally rough it can be when parents try to live out their ambitions through their children and push them in directions they don't necessarily want to go, often so hard that the kid doesn't have time to just be a kid. That perspective makes me grateful that my parents gave me enough space to not only do my own thing, but to figure out for myself what that thing was. Maybe I'm not extraordinary as a result, but at least I'm happy in my own unremarkable way. I hope the characters in my story will learn to be as well.

- Barbara A. Barnett
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