Mason was sure that he was born into a family of robots.
He had first believed it when he had become aware of the cool pane of glass pressed into his mother’s skin. Well, to a four year old it was fascinating. Some of his most vivid memories were those ones where he would climb up into his mother’s lap and gently, intently, tap at the pane of glass. Under the delicate tip of his finger the glass rose into life, glowing a soft pink ring over the freckles dappled on the back of his mother’s hand. When the glowing settled, the display appeared instead. The display had numbers on it. Of course, at four, they meant nothing to him. That wasn’t to say they meant something to him now, mind you, but at least at four he didn’t really understand what the point was.
At six, he was learning to read. Sometimes, to humour him, his mother would hold out her hand and have him repeat the numbers back to her. Then, he would write them out, and then he would write a story with them in. Other times, when tiredness crept in on his mother’s eyes, she would tell him that the display was the number of kisses she needed, or the number of ‘beep boop’s she’d ever said in all her lifetime.
(she was a robot, after all.)
But there were times where she would be too tired to have Mason work and instead he would crumple in her lap and trace the display quietly. 4… 7… 4…. 1.
“Mummy, that says 4741.” She didn’t answer him, so he pressed on rather indignantly. “Yesterday morning it said 4742. I know that because that’s how old Grandma is.”
Mummy looked down at him and swallowed. She took a long time to answer. When she finally offered him a, “I know, sweetheart,” her voice sounded… funny.
Like it was wilting.
On his eighth birthday, Mason shut his eyes against the warm glow of his birthday candles. He wished for a number stamp like his mother’s, and closed his eyes extra tight. Mummy said that was impossible, and so he stamped his feet and announced that, ‘this was the worst birthday ever’, until his mother swept him aside later that night as she had something to tell him.
She waved her hand at him, the one with the number display. “This is a grown up stamp, sweetheart. You don’t want one of these yet, you’re much too little.” “But when?” Mason asked with the whine and the pout that only an eight year old could perfect. His mother cupped his cheek. “When you’re sixteen, sweetheart.”
On his tenth birthday Mum was feeling tired, so Mason couldn’t have a party. She had just enough energy to slather a cupcake in icing and sprinkles and stick a candle in the top. She sang happy birthday to him, too, but her voice was like paper; it quivered as if it was an effort for her to even form the words. She raced to get to the last, ‘you’ before having to collapse down opposite her son and pushed the cupcake toward him. “Happy birthday, love. D’you like your presents?”
Mason quietly picked at the candle atop his cake and sucked the icing from it before putting it back down again. He, almost deliberately, didn’t meet his mother’s gaze – as though pulling apart a fairy cake required the utmost concentration. When the young boy finally looked up his gaze drifted not to his mother’s eyes, framed by tears that caught in her lashes, but to the stamp on his mother’s hand. Since he had started asking her about the stamp at four, she had done everything in her power to stop him seeing it – covering it up as though it were a bruise or a mole that she couldn’t quite bring herself to live with. Now, in this moment, she had forgotten about covering it up. Her hands were restless as she crouched on the carpet, and she picked at the stamp as if it was a scab long outlived its stay. “What does it do?”
Mum jolted, a low strangled noise coming from her mouth as she seemed to come to life once more. “Mm?”
Mason nodded at the stamp. “Your stamp. What does it do?”
Mum tapped the stamp thoughtfully and Mason watched as the display bubbled in response to the slightest touch. Then, Mum went back to tracing its glowing outline.
Mum didn’t respond for a long time. If Mason concentrated very carefully he could see her throwing words around in her head. “It’s a soulmate stamp, love. It tells you who you’re in love with.” She eventually concocted.
Oh. Love was gross.
On his sixteenth birthday, Mason woke up with a strange sense of dread swirling in his stomach. The day he had thought about for so long had finally arrived. Now that it had, Mason found himself wishing he could sink back under the covers and pretend it hadn’t – pretend his sixteenth birthday was tomorrow, was the next day, was the day after. He squeezed his eyes shut so tightly that they stung in an effort to will himself back to sleep, only to be interrupted by the sound of his mother giving a low, cackled cough in her bedroom.
He couldn’t delay the inevitable.
Sighing, Mason slid from the warm security of his bedsheets and padded toward his mother’s room. She lay in almost complete darkness, but he didn’t dare turn on the light in case it hurt her.
He slid up to her bedside, slowly and hesitantly, like a spectre and took her hand – the stampless one – in his own.
Mother rarely realised Mason shared a house with her at this point. Still, Mason squeezed his mother’s hand as lightly as he could, tracing the paper webs of skin on her knuckles. “It’s implantation day, mother.” He murmured softly, as though he were speaking to someone that wasn’t meant to be there. “Dan is picking me up later, taking me to the clinic. I’ll show you what it looks like then, okay?” His mother gurgled, slowly, and Mason took that as a sign she understood him. He squeezed her hand once more; partly as a sign of comfort, and partly to stop himself from dropping her hand to look at the display on the stamped hand. Since his tenth birthday, Mother had made even more of an effort to keep her stamp concealed. Now, at sixteen, it didn’t feel right for Mason to breach her privacy like that. Leaving the room, Mason glanced back once at his mother, but she didn’t seem to acknowledge that he was there.
In all honesty, the clinic was… nothing like Mason was expecting. It was… cold. Suffocating, almost, with the sharp lingering scent of antiseptic that danced up Mason’s nostrils and weaved in long vines around his body. Posters hung on the walls featuring smiling men and women accompanied by quotes like, “the stamp enriched my life. I highly recommend it.”
(Mason wondered why, if the stamps were ‘so enriching’, the only support for them came from the clinic.)
When the antiseptic started to slide sourly down his throat and dance dizzy waves in his head, he bowed and clung tighter to Aunt Dan’s hand in an attempt not to vomit. In doing so he managed to catch a glimpse of Dan’s stamp, and the oblong area marked in Biro on his hand where his own stamp would sit.
“It’ll be fine, sweetheart. Won’t feel a thing.” Aunt Dan cooed, waving him off into a booth.
No sooner had she spoken Mason was enveloped in stark bright whiteness, with no time to turn back. He couldn’t remember what exactly happened while he was there, although he emerged from his white cocoon to a throbbing hand, a stamp that glowed softly blue, and a piercing scream from the booth next door; the kind that punched all of your organs when you heard it.
“Let’s see, then.” Aunt Dan gleamed, seemingly immune to the noise.
Oh. The stamp. Mason had hardly looked at it himself. He glanced.
“Oh!” Dan sagged somewhat, relieved. “That’s great, isn’t it!” She smiled.
Mason felt a tugging, as though someone was pulling him inside out. A frown fell onto his face and stayed there. “Great?” He managed to say with disbelief. “Great? I- I don’t see what’s so great about waiting an entire lifetime for your soulmate.” He spat at her, unable to keep his voice from quivering with upset.
Danica frowned. “Soulmate? Mason, I… I..” Her voice had fallen dangerously low, to the point where it made Mason uneasy at once. “I think you have the wrong end of the stick.” She squeezed his shoulder, and he looked up at her with wide, bright, clueless eyes.
“It’s not counting down until you find your soulmate. It’s counting down until the day you die.”
(Mason wasn’t quite sure when exactly he had started screaming, but he screamed when they left clinic.
He screamed when they went home.
He screamed so loud that his voice blurred in with the wailing of the ambulance.
He screamed when they brought his mother out in a white sheet, her hand dangling cold and loose from the stretcher, and thick with criss-crosses of blood.
He screamed when the paramedic plopped a thin, shattered stamp in the palm of his hand that, underneath the cracks, still held onto the thinnest burst of life; glowing one final string of numbers before it died.
I particularly love the young adult novel Noughts and Crosses, and the dystopian alternate universe that is presented by Malorie Blackman – this piece heavily influenced my own work; hence my choice of opening line, ‘Mason was sure he was born into a family of robots,’ (958232, 2018) and the overall plot.
As this story has been through many rewrites, the sources I take inspiration from have differed. Two sources have stayed throughout each rewrite; Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, and Maupassant’s short story, ‘The Necklace’. I enjoyed the way in which he explored the passage of time and utilised this within my own work.
I showed the passage of time through describing my main character Mason’s age plus more subtly through the changing of the proper noun, ‘Mummy’, to ‘Mum’ and finally ‘Mother’. (958232, 2018)
I decided to focus on the passage of time due to the focal point of my fiction piece; Mason’s mother’s stamp, and its elusive countdown. In part this was why I chose to end on repetition, ‘He screamed… he screamed… he screamed’ (958232, 2018)
It forces the reader to alter the pace of their reading. In doing so this reflects back on Mason – how his own perception of time has now slowed due to the shock of learning the true meaning of the stamp, and his mother’s death.
I chose to have an omniscient narrator telling this story rather than first person as I did not want Mason to become an unreliable narrator – an issue I have seen for instance from Nick in Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.
Mason’s lack of knowledge about his mother’s stamp is what propels the narrative forward – it is key in distancing him from the situation and keeping an element of mystery. I feel as though the omniscient narrator also works to distance readers somewhat; so they aren’t influenced entirely by Mason’s thoughts and feelings.
However, I found that by placing an omniscient narrator into the piece that the narrative had to change somewhat. Initially, this piece did not end in the twist – it was a coming out story with Mason coming to terms with his sexuality and realising that his stamp counted down to him meeting his boyfriend. I felt that such a personal journey deserved to be explored through 1st person narration with Mason able to share his feelings with the reader. As someone who identifies within the LGBT community I didn’t want Mason to become an ‘author insert’ style character either – I wanted Mason to have his own thoughts and feelings on the situation rather than have him become a projection of my own feelings.
On reflection, to alter this piece of fiction I would like to expand on the climax of the story as I feel that Mason’s reaction is abrupt and therefore unrealistic i.e, ‘a frown fell onto his face and stayed there. (958232, 2018)
Here especially I feel a movement into the 1st person point of view would be effective.
As I previously mentioned, I would have loved to expand on the ‘coming out’ storyline rather than the countdown; though a coming out story, I feel, deserves not to be held within the constraints of a short story. Within future pieces I create I feel I need to measure how rapid or sluggish the pace of my story is, and alter it so that I don’t rush elements of the story, as I did with this particular work.
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