Hey! It looks like you're new here. You might want to check out the introduction.

But First, We Need to Talk About Parallel Universes · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
The Burden She Bore
The plaque on Mama’s desk read “Delilah Wolfe-Chan, Prof. of Astrophysics.” But I knew the truth: my mother was the bearer of all the world’s knowledge. After all, who else knew the names of every star in the sky, let alone the schedule of every public bus in San Francisco? Who else could cook dinner with one arm while editing textbooks with the other? Even while sleeping, the veins in Mama’s forehead bulged, like ropes straining to hold her mind in place.

Mama would sometimes read her red-inked work to us. Supernovas, parsecs, wormholes—Papa and I nodded along.

To eight-year-old me, she may as well have been reading fairy tales. Forget lightyears—just leaving my city seemed an impossibly long journey.

Still, I made no fuss when she lectured me on paying attention in math class, or explained time dilation while washing my hair ("Judy, sweetie—imagine that the tub drain is a black hole."). I listened with as much attention as I could muster, letting her calm, raspy voice flow into my mind. Maybe some day I could be as smart as her, I figured.

"You can do better," said Grandma.

She'd lived in California for forty years at that point, but Shanghai survived in her accent. Her words came out slow but jagged.

The monthly dinner conversation. Mama nodded. "Yes, Mā. I know."

I watched them like a tennis match.

"When my friends ask what you do, I do not wish to say.” Grandma’s sagging jowls made her look like a bulldog. “It seems a waste.”

“C’mon, Lin,” Papa said, chewing. “Say what you want about USF, but teaching’s a fine job.”

“Yeah,” I squeaked. I’d never butted into these conversations. “She’s a totally great teacher.”

My contribution hung. I saw Mama’s smile.

“I never said she is not." Grandma's eyes lingered on Mama. “But we did not send you to school for you to stay there. You are better.”

Mama’s smile didn’t last. She stared at her food. “Yes, Mā.”

That night, after Grandma returned to her condo, I sat awake in bed. In the chair next to me, Mama read Harry Potter aloud, slowly, softly. Too softly.

Gaining the courage to speak took half a chapter. But between descriptions of Hogwarts’ magic mirror, I threw down the words: “Grandma's wrong.”

Mama froze. Then, she dogeared the page and closed the book. “About what?”

“You’re not a waste.” I gripped the blanket. “You’re super smart.”

“Grandma knows I’m smart. That’s why she’s angry with me,” Mama said. “She thinks I should've left the city and cured cancer or something. Anything but teach.” She stared out the window, studying the skyline. “She just wanted the best for me.”

“But you wanted to be a teacher?”


That left a black hole of silence in the room. “Oh,” I said, queasy. “Then what did you want to be?”

“Y'know. Doctor. Astronaut.” Mama shrugged and offered me a smile. “But then I got an offer to intern at USF, and one thing led to another, so... it all worked out.”

“But do you wish it hadn’t?” I asked. “If you went back, would you work someplace else?”

Mama furrowed her brows—then turned towards me. “Have I ever explained multiverses to you?” I shook my head, and she grinned. “According to this theory, there are an infinite number of other universes, just like the one we live in—but with tiny changes. Like, one where I don’t wear glasses.”

“Or where my hair is blonde, not black,” I said.

“Right. Or: one where I did leave San Francisco, and became an astronaut, or whatever.” Mama shook her head. “Maybe that Delilah is better off—rich, famous.” She smiled at me. “But I met Papa working at USF. So that Delilah doesn’t have him. That Delilah doesn’t have you.

“That’s not a tiny change,” I said.

Mama laughed. “No, it’s not!” She leaned down and hugged me. “We don’t need to worry about what Grandma says, or what the other Delilah is doing. I love you so much, I would destroy every other universe just to see you smile.”

My eyes widened. “You can do that?”

“Well, no. Scientists haven’t even proved multiverses exist, much less how to destroy one.”


“But who knows?” Mama said, reopening Harry Potter. “Maybe one day, you’ll be the one who proves the theory.”

Giggling, I wriggled under the covers.

That night, I imagined the future, with Mama and I standing together, reading stardust-laced fairy tales to the world.
« Prev   22   Next »
#1 ·
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Sweet sugary sacharine aftertaste. It feels both nice and too much.
The story is cute in a way, but there are several small things that got me out of it.

To eight-year-old me,

That line is useless. We already understand with the first paragraph that the narrator is a child, mainly because of the completely unrelated things mentionned (the names of every star in the sky, the schedule of every public bus in San Francisco, the ability to cook dinner with one arm while editing textbooks with the other). Trust your writing and your reader, because this line felt like 'you're too stupid to understand the context so here, I'll hammer it'. And I'm pretty sure that's not what you wanted.

“That’s not a tiny change,” I said.

I felt this line shouldn't be said by the narrator but by the mother, proving to her daughter that small things lead to bigger things. Having this said by the narrator, it felt like the child scolding her mother for forgetting how important he/she is.

Mama read Harry Potter aloud

Why Harry Potter? If it's to inform your reader the timeframe, we don't really need this information. Since you've already mentionned pretty bug physics topics, we know that we aren't in the past, but rather in the present.
And it could be any book, the fact that it's Harry Potter doesn't play a role at all in the story. Mentionning that title, even if you wanted it to be just a small detail, really drag the attention to it. And seeing not being used is a bit disappointing.

And once more, I feel like I'm saying I didn't enjoy the story. I did, it was a pleasant read, nonetheless. It's just that the litte details I mentionned will prevent the story to be ranked at the top, but it's still a solid mid-tier in my book.

PS: Bonus point for not writing a story of people travelling parallel universes.
#2 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Ranmilia >>Dubs_Rewatcher
this story reminded me of "Pickup Trucks and Comic Books" with the parent themes, and smart character explaining to simple character about how parallel universes work. even though the prose isn't as pretty, I think this one works better as a story.

I liked the opening section a lot, juxtaposing many instances of Mama working at parenting with her knowledge. using the tub drain to explain black holes is great. it's not just cute, but shows their relationship.

the section with Grandma is a little too on-the-nose, too direct with the lecturing, but I did like that it establishes this internal conflict by contrasting with the first section. she may indeed be smart, but not using it correctly.

this makes the whole multiverse section have some actual weight to it. "I could've been someone else" and so on. bringing it up seems unnaturally abrupt, but the conclusion was honestly kinda touching. so many of the fics this round have been about exploring alternate possibilities and destinies, but this is one of the few fics where the characters decide they're happiest right here in the universe they got (but there's still a pinch of doubt...)

the last part is too saccharine, and feels like such a weak note to end on. there's lots of wasted lines like these throughout the fic, which could've built upon the theme and made it feel more important. but I was still overall positive towards this story for having a theme and some contrast.
#3 ·
· · >>Haze >>Dubs_Rewatcher
First off, I agree with >>AndrewRogue that the title here is hella bland. I see what you're trying to do—sort of a pseudo-subversion of "the burden we bear"—but it doesn't stand out, and isn't particularly memorable.

That said, I really liked this! It's very lit fic-esque, which is right up my alley. As >>Haze said, the scenes with Mama and Judy are real cute, and manage to express both their personalities well without seeming forced or needing to rely on exposition too much. Also, the prompt connection makes so much sense! 'Tis cool.

I'm not sure how I feel about the racial aspect in the second scene. It's obvious that part of the conflict here is cultural... an immigrant mother is too demanding of her daughter, wanting her to succeed in every way she didn't. Yet, the daughter is supposedly limiting her potential, as well as marrying some average white dude (I liked Papa's one line... shows how little he understands of Ma and Mama's relationship). And yet, as Haze noted, it feels quite on-the-nose. Ma deserves more characterization. As is, she's just here to shame Mama.

I also agree with what others have said about the ending. It emphasizes Judy's wonder about her mother, but isn't really evocative like the rest of the story has been.

Good in some ways, lacking in others. I wanna see this edited, though. I'm a sucker for these sorts of stories.

I disagree with your note about Harry Potter. I like that the book was named—perhaps it's just because that's the sort of book my own mom used to read to me, but that sort of specific detail really jumped out at me, and helped make the scene a lot more vivid.
#4 ·
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
Fairly sweet, though it does bother me just a bit that the "you should do something else" is not necessarily at odds with the child. You intern, you have the power to choose your life's path without forsaking your past!

I got nothing else at the moment.
#5 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher >>Dubs_Rewatcher
It's obvious that part of the conflict here is cultural... an immigrant mother is too demanding of her daughter, wanting her to succeed in every way she didn't.

by "asian tiger mom" standards, becoming a university professor is pretty darn high on the success chart... maybe less than doctor, but probably a lot better than astronaut. yet the conversation implies she's not much better than a high school teacher or something?
I'm totally not sure if this is intended, but I inferred this to mean that grandma's standards are even higher than normal -- ridiculously higher. like mama is so exceptionally genius, that even this successful career is way too paltry for her.

but grandma's characterization is still kinda fuzzy, so it's hard to be certain of this.
#6 ·
Agreed. I got that same inference, but I think that university professor is a bit too lofty for this sort of plot. Maybe if she were just an adjunct? :P
#7 ·
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
So I did a title review in parallel (universe) with AndrewRogue, but decided not to post mine because they were mostly similar to his. One comment I did have, though, is that "Bore" is one of a few words that I think should be avoided in titles at all costs. Even if I know that's not the intended usage, I don't want any implication that this story might bore me!

Title aside, this is all right. The prose flows very well, the scene structure is on point and it delivers within the length of the mini format effectively. It is very syrupy and litfic-y, which isn't much to my taste, and I'll add my voice to the pile critical of the main conflict. Grandma exists only to provide a tonguelashing and spark conflict, and shame at her daughter being a university professor is a bit hard to buy.

I think I most agree with >>Haze in viewing the ending as weak and wishing there was a stronger central theme or message built up. A sense of purpose is what I think I'm really missing from this. I can infer a message of "she's happiest in this universe" but it'd be nicer to have it more explicitly expressed and thematically backed!

Top tier for execution so far, though. It is indeed very similar to Comic Books and Pickup Trucks, but I think I'm taking this one on top in the head to head. Good stuff, thanks for writing!
#8 · 2
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
I hurt my arm, so I'm recording reviews instead of typing them.

Listen at this link.
#9 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
I'd bet this is Dubs's story
#10 ·
Honestly, I feel like the prompt connection is the weakest part of this. It doesn't really build on the strong character drama established by the opening; I reached that part and thought, "Welp, this is where the story tries to show how it's meeting this round's prompt." The ending is an admirable attempt to square that circle, and does make a strong point, but I was kind of checked out of my reading by then.

No other critique that above commenters haven't covered. This does meet its goals, and on the basis of all its pieces fitting together better than anything else I've read so far, is probably going to end up high in my slate despite my indifference to its second half. Good job!

Tier: Strong
#11 ·
On the whole, this was a sweet little story. Dealing with disapproving guardians is definitely relatable, and the dialogue felt fairly down-to-earth. The only things that bugged me was that the daughter seemed a little too bland, and that the opening was a bit too over-the-top. From that description, I thought she was a literal human supercomputer and was doing all of these things simultaneously. I get that the story's doing a childish exaggeration (because the narrator's, well, a child), but I still think it could've been toned down just a little.

7/10, now off to astronaut school
#12 ·
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
I'll comment a bit more on this. I ranked high, but there are still three things that bugs me:

1. The reaction of the grandmother doesn't sound right to me. If I were an immigrant in a foreign country, having my daughter become professor in a major university would be a huge accomplishment. I don't understand the feeling of disappointment she expresses.

2. The multiple universes passage seems forced, yanked into the story just to connect it to the prompt. It doesn't really relates to the rest, and doesn't really add anything meaningful either.

3. What's the father's role in this? He's pretty much absent. And that's rather strange, since boys are usually more sensible to what their dads do, rather than their mothers.

On the whole, I liked it though, and found it less maudlin and cliché than *Trucks*.
#13 · 1
· · >>Dubs_Rewatcher
This is an example of a simple story whose characters are developed enough in 750 words that I can actually feel deep things for them.... and that's not an easy thing to do.

No suggestions.
#14 · 2
· · >>Not_A_Hat

This isn't the story I originally meant to write. Originally, I had the idea to write a comedy about movie executives trying to come up with a concept for their own cinematic universe, ala Marvel or DC. When that didn't pan out—I couldn't think of any way to give the story substance—I came up with an idea sort of similar to the one you see here... except that the conflict was going to come from Delilah (the mom) being fired from her job, and losing her motivation.

But as I was writing the actual story—starting at one in the morning, mind you, barely able to keep myself awake—I had some realization that caused me to dislike that plotline. So with that in mind, I decided to introduce a new conflict, based around the grandmother.

Unfortunately, this also caused my conflict to become a bit scrambled. As some noted, it's hard to tell whether the story is trying to posit Mama's feelings of inadequacy as the main conflict, or Judy's desire to become like her mother, or Judy's inability to imagine life outside the city. In reality, it's meant to have aspects all of those. Oops.

Other small changes that were made over time:
Judy originally had a little sister. But I couldn't decide what age to make her, and I couldn't find a place in the wordcount to give her any sort of appreciable character, so she got cut.
The family's ethnicity changed once or twice, from Chinese to Korean and then back again. In my flash fiction, I like to explore cultures that aren't my own... maybe it's a Freudian way of expressing my displeasure with my own upbringing. :P

I'm not sure I agree with your first point—personally, when writing kids, I think it's important to establish age up front, since they grow up so fast. I agree with the second. And as I already told you, I very much disagree with your last point.
Thanks for reading!

I already responded to you on this, but I'd like to add that I agree Mama bringing up the multiverse theory is abrupt. Thanks for confirming my suspicions, and thanks for reading.

You're very cute.

I have no idea what you mean here.
Thanks for reading!

As already admitted, I totally agree with your complaint about the lofty status of Mama's job, as well as Ma's flatness.

Thank you for the note on the title! I really didn't like this title when I submitted it, and you've justified my distaste for it.
Thanks for reading!

"Deliuh Wolfe-Chon"
You gotta work on your names, dude
Thanks for reading!

*wanking motions*
Thanks for reading!

The narrator, Judy, is a girl. Also I didn't do much with Papa because it's Mama's conflict, not his. As is, he's mostly there to be the clueless white outsider to Mama and Ma's family struggles.

Thank you, and thanks for reading!
#15 ·

Deliuh Wolfe-Chon

I don't have an accent you have an accent