Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Gift Of Years

He decided at one point that if what he thought was, in fact, true, he would forgive her --- it would remain their secret. He made up his mind that relieving himself of the curiosity was all that mattered and kept this firmly in mind when he approached her to ask the question outright.
But then always a certain laziness would set in, for by now he had conceived of the right words, only his mouth could not utter them; at once anxious and weary, he realized it was not curiosity that wanted relief, it was the uncertainty of his disappointment. The laziness was just one symptom of fear, for though he would remind himself to try, the threat of an answer, of a finality terrific in its inevitability, made the uncertainty and self-denial already there a pain he preferred to bear, only so the alternative could never hurt him more --- which was why the question could not come, and would not come. And then he would remember all those moments in her life when she revealed her strange nature to him and him alone, those aberrations of the person she normally was and, he wanted to believe, had always been... . He would remember these images, hold them fast to his chest, then convince himself that meaning and connections conceived in memory were flimsy bridges and that to corrupt a good memory would be to corrupt them all. And so, selfishly, not because his suspicion might have been wrong but because it could have yielded the truth, he never asked her.

The Gift of Years by Vu Tran is a short story about Nguyen Van Lam and his youngest daughter Nguyen Tram-Mai. Lam is a husband and father of five. He has done his time in the army, been good to his wife and kids, and lived a fairly respectful life. Lam shares a special relationship with his youngest child Mai. Throughout the years he has watched his daughter with much concern in her reaction to violence, fighting, killing and death. He observed a pattern of interest and indifference through questions and actions during much of her youth and teen years. Also, Mai has always confided in her father about the events and details of her actions that she doesn't ordinarily share with others, even into her adult life. When Mai's husband is found dead after a night of usual drunkenness, Lam is too afraid to ask about and discover the truth behind this tragic event. But he knows that some day she will share this secret with him as well. Throughout the short story, Lam recalls his memories of Mai over the years. And in the end, prior to Lam's death, Mai shares one more event with her father that leads to a revelation that even he had never suspected.

The Gift of Years is a story that comes full circle in its presentation through an ending that is not expected. It shows how observations and memories over time are not always what they seem to be. I very much enjoyed this short story.

"The Gift of Years" by Vu Tran (from Fence) from The O. Henry Prize Stories 2007 edited by Laura Furman

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