Enjoy an excerpt from Alisha Costanzo’s “Tatiana’s Diary” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
It’s my birthday. Happy Birthday to me. I’m officially twenty-four.
Mom and Dad got me things for the baby yesterday, for Christmas, but for today, they got me a new stack of books and a sketch pad with a new set of pencils. I’m not much of an artist, skill wise, but I have a thing for scribbling out my emotions. Sometimes, I’m surprised by how well they know me. How much they pay attention.
Guess I’m about to learn a whole new level of appreciation for them. Aren’t I?
They say having a child is recompense for the trouble we cause when we were young. If that’s true, I’m in for it. And if that’s true, what kind of child was Aderyn? What kind of trouble would the phoenix part of him bring?
God, I feel like a nutcase. Phoenix. How could any of it be real?
I keep circling back to that, and I feel silly.
It can’t be true, but everything he showed me, the otherness of that little boy with him, and now, Alex. Something about him isn’t quite human either. He has that same uncanny sense of knowing and seeing things that I don’t, that neither of us really could, but he does just the same. I’ve called him out on it once or twice, but he’s awfully good at redirecting me.
I wonder if that’s why Maria doesn’t like him. She wouldn’t say as much to his face, but if it’s obvious to me that he’s not her favorite person, it has to be obvious to him, too. I mean, she’s told me as much, not liking how easily he wiggled into my life. How quickly we’d become friends.
What can I say? I like his quick wit and dark sense of humor. Maria can’t help but smile sometimes, and she hates it. I think she should take a shot at him since he’s not interested in me, and he’s damn gorgeous. No denying that.
He makes me wonder about fate, about the magic of the universe and how people are drawn together for a reason.
Aderyn and I were. Fate seemed to have a direct hand in that, but I wish I knew why.
I mean, the result was evident, but the reason…I bet if I asked Alex, he’d know. Whether he’d tell me or not was a whole other issue. And I’m sad that Aderyn won’t ever know. Or maybe he’ll find the answers on his adventures.
I hope he’s happy, having the fun that he can while he can. I’m sad at the thought of him dying. That somehow our child will cause it, but more so, I hope she inherits his sweetness, his shy demeanor, his freckles wouldn’t do her any disservice either. I hope she’s special like he is.
With as many men as I’ve gotten to taste, he was the only one who knew how to make the rest of the world disappear when he looked at me—like I was exceptional. Usually, once I’d gotten what I’d wanted from a man, and he’d gotten what he wanted, something changed. The magic left, and the normal day resumed.
Not with Aderyn.
It was remarkable.
I never, ever thought I’d say this: my mother and I had a real moment. A significant one.
It’s like a switch has gone off, and Mom thinks it’s okay to be a real person instead of just my mom. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for the change, but it came out of nowhere.
We talked about the one man she slept with before my dad—a boyfriend she was with all through high school. One she’d never told me about. Before the end of their senior year, she’d gotten pregnant, but lost the baby the day after graduation. The day her sister was found murdered.
Mom never really talked about Aunt Laney’s death, but I’d known about how much I reminded Mom of her—rebellious, creative, free. The common belief was that it’s what had gotten her killed. They never caught the murderer.
The stress of her sister gone missing over graduation weekend made Mom ill, finding her body had been the last straw. Mom wouldn’t go into details, but apparently, the state of Aunt Laney had been bad enough to make the newbie officer puke on scene. Her death was also the end of Mom’s relationship with her former boyfriend.
That, of course, opened her up to meet my dad when she went off to university, taking one of the only two options available to her—teaching. He was there on an Army scholarship.
And as fairy tale romances go, theirs was pretty spot on.
She gave me sparkling grape juice as the ball dropped, and we watched it from home for the first time in years.
It’s a girl! I found out today, and Alex came with me. Drove me so that I didn’t have to take the train while my parents and Maria were working. He was perfect at the appointment, supportive and sweet, and something changed in him when he heard the heartbeat.
But as perfect as Alex was, I wish Aderyn had been there, that he could have the moment to connect with her. I could have sat watching her for hours.
Alex squeezed my hand and shared a smile with me.
Everything’s going fine so far, according to Dr. Flynn. I’m still taking a stack of pills.
It seems to be working out, so I won’t stop and jinx myself.
On the way home, Alex and I were talking about baby names—Veronica, Alice, Jasmine, Sidney, Bianca, Destiny, Valerie. He had way too many on hand.
I got the feeling that half of them were ex-girlfriends’ names, especially with that sly glint in his eyes. It made me laugh until I snorted. That’s why we’d become friends.
That and how he snuck me over for a specialty decaf coffee loaded with sugar and fat.
Alex and Maria took me out for Valentine’s Day, and I’m surprised that they got on so well. Maybe she could warm up and snag a taste of that morsel after all. They shared a few too many drinks, but Maria ended up the least sober of us all while Alex didn’t seem any worse for wear.
I ended up the fattest, eating two desserts on my own. My baby bump is growing, and she has a thing about cinnamon. If not cinnamon, chocolate. And if caffeine didn’t have negative effects, I swear she’d have me sucking down gallons of it.
Alex, though, is fascinated by my baby bump, sneaking in to cup the curve of my baby when he got the chance—almost like he was a father himself. I have trouble with that thought for some reason.
“I feel her, you know?”
I did know. Her presence is so strong.
I want to tell him about her father, about Aderyn and the things he’d told me, but how could I?
Alex asked me a few times, and I hated keeping the secret from him, but I told him what I could. “He’s gone. I don’t expect him to be back.”
As sad as my new friend pretended to be, I could tell that he was relieved to hear it. And I did actually hope that Aderyn would come back, so I could learn more about him and what to expect…you know, before he combusts into oblivion.
I’m probably just sappy from the hormones, but wishful thinking has become my partner in crime.
Alex stood in more and more as the father-to-be, while being adamant about having a girlfriend back home. He didn’t talk a lot about her. Obvious that she didn’t make him very happy, but I wasn’t sticking my nose into it for once. Grateful for the companionship, especially amongst the mood swings and icky bits.
Never been close enough with a guy to share those moments.
He made sense as my friend. Sleeping together would ruin it.
Besides, still aiming for Maria to turn it around at the right moment. But what can I say, I’m an optimist.
Dear Little One,
I don’t want to scare you, but I have this overwhelming feeling that the worst is coming. The doctor came right out and told me what complications might occur. The chances. And the idea of death clings to me in a way I can’t properly explain. I don’t have a mark like Aderyn does, but my connection to you has made me more aware of the unknown—in the world or in myself. Both.
I am as excited as I am scared.
I hope this is all just me working myself up, but I feel like if I’m not, I need to tell you how much I love you already. You don’t have to worry at all. You’re mine, and I’m keeping you, no matter the consequences.
That means I have a lot to get done.
You probably think your mom is nutso, but a fifty-fifty chance with the anemia. Fifty-fifty. That’s not very good odds when you’re talking life and death. For us both.
I just have to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
So, here’s my plan, baby girl. I’m going to tell you as much as I can bare about life and my thoughts in case I do go. How’s that sound?
And if I don’t, you never have to see this. Or maybe you’ll get your hands on it when you’re older. I have a lot of reasons to write this down, so I may as well. Don’t judge your crazy momma too terribly, okay?
Art has always been my outlet, and I’ve been painting a lot lately with the new notebook and set of paints—watercolors. The colors are bright and vibrant and saturated, and they spread nicely even though the paper isn’t made for that kind of thing.
I like the swirl of color, how they look like space in my imagination after they’ve dried. Sometimes, I splatter white or gold across the top to mimic the stars in the nebula. I’ve been thinking a lot about magick lately, the universe, and how everything is connected.
Maybe it’s the reverberations I get when I think too hard about you, like life is creating feedback between us. It’s made me wonder about reincarnation, about how we can be one place one second and in another the next—new life, new body, new time around.
I wish there’d been something I was good at in this life, other than having fun and embarrassing my parents. I was always good with men and books and music, but I never really did anything with myself. I mean, I thought I would one day, so I wasn’t in a rush. Maybe, I should have thought more about the present instead of dreaming so much. I hope you fall into whatever will make you happy nice and early in your life, otherwise, the chaos will take over, and your life will be gone before you know it.
But art, let’s go back to that. My favorite painter is Van Gogh, and not just The Starry Night like the college girls like to put on their dorm room walls. I mean, I do like that one—space. I like the chunky style most of his work had. And living in New York meant I got to see recreations and new interpretations of Van Gogh from the street vendors. I’ve collected more than a few. One of them gave me some tips for the watercolor. About dry brushing and dropping water first. Both created new and interesting results.
He had nice hands, too, and he didn’t mind the baby bump.
Most men are squeamish about that at first.
I know, TMI, right? Maybe at first, but remember, you’ll be an adult one day, and you’ll understand me better then. I hope.
Work has always been a nice place to seduce a pretty face, and if no one else has let you in on the secret yet, little one, that’s been a favorite hobby of mine for quite some time. I appreciate a man for a lot of different reasons, and you should learn to, as well. But maybe learn that without needing to find so many men.
What can I say? They fascinate me. Strong but sensitive. Smart but reckless. Hard but soft. They’re made up of opposites in varying ratios. It got me in trouble my last few years of high school. You wouldn’t believe how eager some of those chess nerds were. Big brains and easy to lead. Algorithms, go figure.
I did fair enough at the stuff, but my real talent laid with my intuition. Some things just make sense, and I can’t explain how I’d get the right answers a lot of the time; I just knew they were right.
Patterns and the universe.
I seem to be consumed with that recently. I guess I better stop spinning in circles.
Dad and I got to have our moment today. I mean, he’s known about the pregnancy. Obviously. And whereas Dad has always been more tolerant of my rebellious nature—he had quite the streak before he entered the Army. The trick, as he told it to me, was to simply not get caught.
He works too much to get in much trouble now, but he’s a good teacher, and he enjoys it, coming alive in front of his students.
“Life is tough sometimes, but privileges are hard to come by and easy to lose. We each share the consequences of it,” he told me as I grew quiet after dinner, on the porch as he puffed his cigar outside for my benefit. I sat upwind.
I don’t think of you as a consequence. A result. A surprise. A gift.
As terrified as I am of paying the debt for your life, I’m more worried about your well-being once I’m gone.
The pressure of it finally cracked me. “If something happens to me…”
“Nothing’s going to happen to you, pumpkin.”
“But if something does.”
Dad tapped the ash into the rose bushes and gave me that patent professor stare down, telling me I was an idiot for feeling the need to ask. But sometimes, it’s not enough to let the universe sort it out. I needed to hear the answer, so I pulled it out of the ether.
“Will you two take care of her?”
“Of course, we would. You should know better.”
Tears pulled at the corners of my eyes, and I had to blink them away—not wanting to admit how sappy I was being. Different kind of hormones than I was used to. “I don’t want to assume. It’s a lot to ask.”
Dad reached over and patted my knee, swinging it with love. “You’re my daughter. Nothing you ask me for will ever be too much.”
I believed him when I looked into his eyes, grabbing his hand for the support I desperately needed. Thank you.
I’m not sure if I said it aloud, but he nodded anyways and returned to his cigar—the trace notes of tobacco and vanilla circling around the porch. The smoke sweeter than I remembered. It calmed the excessive roiling in my stomach, so I hope the universe will let the indiscretion slide.
Some peace sounded really nice. Seemed like it wouldn’t last, nor would I be carving out a lot of it here soon.
Or that’s all I will have. Eternal nothingness.
With a major item on the list checked, I’m going to avoid dwelling on it, which means reading. Maybe, I’ll annotate them for you. I’ve always liked writing in books, even as it made others cringe. It’s like I’m laying my mark along the greats.
Whittling out a space of my own to influence the next person who held that book in their hands. Maria’s mother gets onto me for it when I trade back books, but there has to be other readers out there like me who like to see others’ thoughts and reactions when they read a story.
It might be one of the few ways we can connect with each other.
Wife of a disabled veteran, Alisha Costanzo writes about PTSD, environmentalism, violence, and conformity. With a mutually-fueled passion to change the world one person at a time, she often writes about her husband’s rants, conspiracy theories, and trains of logic that seem absurd until the connections line up, and mixes them into her obsession with cooking, coffee, and pop-culture monsters.
Most of all, Alisha is passionate about satire and how it can be used as a tool for learning and criticism. Her stories are aware of themselves and determined not to give readers what they think they want.
A New York transplant, she lives in Oklahoma, teaches English and rhetoric at a local university, runs and edits at Transmundane Press, LLC, and navigates the crazy that comes with her husband, seventeen-year-old step son, four cats, two lizards, tons of mice, two snakes, and a water turtle, in the master bath.