My Real Children

Jo Walton

My Real Children
It's 2015, and Patricia Cowan is very old. "Confused today," read the notes clipped to the end of her bed. She forgets things she should know - what year it is, major events in the lives of her children. But she remembers things that don't seem possible. She remembers marrying Mark and having four children. And she remembers not marrying Mark and raising three children with Bee instead. She remembers the bomb that killed President Kennedy in 1963, and she remembers Kennedy in 1964, declining to run again after the nuclear exchange that took out Miami and Kiev. Two lives, two worlds, two versions of modern history; each with their loves and losses, their sorrows and triumphs. Jo Walton's My Real Children is the tale of both of Patricia Cowan's lives... and of how every life means the entire world.


"Confused today," they wrote on her notes. "Confused. Less confused. Very confused." That last was written frequently, sometimes abbreviated by the nurses to just "VC," which made her smile, as if she were sufficiently confused to be given a medal for it. Her name was on the notes too - just her first name, Patricia, as if in old age she were demoted to childhood, and denied both the dignity of surname and title and the familiarity of the form of her name she preferred. The notes reminded her of a school report with the little boxes and fixed categories into which it was so difficult to express the real complexity of any situation. "Spelling atrocious." "Needs to pay attention." "Confused today." They seemed remote and Olympian and impossible to appeal. "But Miss!" the kids would say in more recent years. She would never have dared when she was in school, and neither would the obedient girls of her first years of teaching. "But Miss!" was a product of their growing confidence, trickle-down feminism, and she welcomed it even as it made her daily work harder. She wanted to say it now herself to the nurses who added to her notes: "But Miss! I'm only a little confused today!"

From My Real Children by Jo Walton ©2014. Published by Tor Books.