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The Dinosaur's Valentine

Abra Staffin-Wiebe loves optimistic science fiction, cheerful horror, and dark fantasy. Dozens of her short stories have appeared at publications including Tor.com, F&SF, Escape Pod, and Odyssey Magazine. She lives in Minneapolis, where she wrangles her children, pets, and the mad scientist she keeps in the attic. When not writing or wrangling, she collects folk tales and photographs whatever stands still long enough to allow it. Abra Staffin-Wiebe's most recent novella, "The Unkindness of Ravens", is an epic fantasy coming-of-age story about trickster gods and favors owed. Enjoy more of her fiction at her website, www.aswiebe.com.

Once upon a time, a slow, plodding sauropod fell in love with a beautiful dinosaur princess.
Although I didn't know it, the same day that my doctor told me I had six months left, my ex-wife learned she had a little short of nine months to go.
"That can't be right," I told my doctor. "We cured cancer. I splice genes--climate-adapted dinosaur genes--every day!"
"I'm sorry," he said. "This cancer is too aggressive for gene treatment. We can discuss palliative care, or trying to get you into an experimental study, but you need to prepare your loved ones for the worst. I can recommend a good end-of-life counselor...."
I didn't really hear anything else he said. I nodded in the right places. I took the printouts he handed me. But there was a buzzing in my ears and a fog in my brain. The fog didn't lift until I was in the elevator and the doors opened to reveal Natalie.
Her father, the king of the dinosaurs, ate all her suitors after their gifts displeased her.
Natalie. My ex-wife. The mother of the only child I'd ever have, Daisy, a girl who would always be five years old and perfectly imperfect in our memories. Co-parent who covered for all my long hours in the lab. Partner in grief. Bitter enemy as we tore our marriage and each other apart with blame.
She glowed with happiness. The sign on the wall behind her said, "Reproductive Cloning."
For the rest of the elevator ride, the air was thick with all the words we didn't say.
The other suitors gave her meat. But the sauropod knew she loved flowers, so he set out on a quest to find the perfect blossom.
I called my lawyer.
"She can't do this!" I shouted. "The genes are half mine. She can't replace Daisy."
"There's no law preventing it. You could try a civil suit, but all she has to do is stall."
"Will you look into it? There's another issue, too." I told him about my diagnosis.
He agreed to meet me later that week. "I'll review your will. We can discuss its terms during our meeting," he said.
It was a long, lonely quest. The days grew short and long and short again before he discovered an amazing flower unlike anything he'd ever seen.
I told my manager my diagnosis.
"I'm so sorry," she said. "We'll do everything we can to help. I'll assign another engineer to the Theropod Project to shadow your role."
"Not necessary."
"The project completion timeline is eighteen months. Your diagnosis gives you six."
He knew the princess would love the flower, so he scooped the whole plant up carefully in his mouth and began the long trek home.
Natalie left me a message. "We have to talk," she said. "Please meet me for lunch." She named somewhere I'd never been, a place innocent of all associations.
I showed up, but I didn't order anything. "You're insane if you think I'll support this," I told her.
"I don't need your support," she said. "I'm doing this on my own. I only want a few pictures of you, so I can show my daughter where the other half of her genetic material comes from. Think about it." She paused. "I heard about your diagnosis. I'm sorry. For everything."
The sympathy in her voice drove me away faster than anger would have.
The blossom withered and went to seed along the way, but the plant still lived and so the sauropod persisted. With his every ponderous step, the plant shook like a dying bird.
Natalie was right; she didn't need my support. She would be a great single mother. She'd had plenty of practice solo parenting when we were married. The one thing that only I did, and she didn't, was read bedtime stories. Our daughter claimed Natalie read too fast and didn't do the voices right.
Daisy made me promise to always wake her up if she fell asleep before I got home.
So I always did.
I would wake Daisy up, give her a hug and a kiss, and then read the story. While her small, warm weight snuggled against my side, I told tales of princesses and pirates, dinosaurs and dragons, and fairies and unicorns. Often her eyelids fluttered shut again before I even finished a page, but I kept reading until she was deeply asleep.
When the sauropod returned, he found all the dinosaurs watching an asteroid plummeting toward the Earth. "You're too late," the dinosaur princess said. "But your gift is beautiful."
My will was simple. I didn't have many assets. I wouldn't be able to stay with the Theropod project until completion. By my contract, that meant I--or rather my heirs--wouldn't receive a split of the patent royalties. After I was gone, what I left wouldn't make much difference. Not to my beneficiaries and not to the world.
My lawyer held out no hope for a lawsuit to stop Natalie.
When I persisted, he said, "I'm going to be blunt. We all die. Do you want your last act to be this bitter, losing battle? I've seen deaths that cause grief and deaths that cause rejoicing. The difference is in how we are remembered."
Daisy was gone, but I could still feel her warm, trusting weight. My love for her was a living thing. Could that legacy be passed down?
After I returned to work, I asked my manager, "What projects have shorter timelines?"
Everywhere that he had plodded, seeds had fallen and grown into a carpet of flowering plants. The princess leaned against him and together they admired the flowers.
By the time I finished the new project, even walking exhausted me. At the cancer's rate of growth, I had maybe one month left. My ex-wife had three months to go. She was round and radiant when she opened the door to me.
"I made videos of me reading bedtime stories, for our new daughter," I told her. I handed her a potted plant, elephantine and ancient and blooming for the first time in millennia. "And this. I named it Dinosaur's Valentine, after Daisy's favorite story."
"Love is never wasted," said the sauropod to his dinosaur princess. "Look at the beauty we created."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, April 10th, 2020

Author Comments

This story exists because of a pair of earrings. Master craftswoman and professional muse Elise Mattheson issued a challenge for writers to create a super-short story based on a pair of heart-shaped earrings with a flower engraving, titled "Dinosaur's Valentine" (all her jewelry comes with story titles--look her up!). I had no inspiration until I thought of the different types of non-romantic love, and I remembered getting special valentines from my parents as a child. Combining that with my own hopes and fears as a parent, I wrote a 500-word flash fiction that eventually grew into the story(ies) you just read. Yes, it used to be even shorter!

- Abra Staffin Wiebe
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