Before Your Time

Yesterday morning, which was Christmas morning, I came across a short story by the Brooklyn-born poet and writer Delmore Schwartz called “In Dreams Begin Responsibility.” The story is collected in a volume of great American short stories called You’ve Got to Read This (a book I’ve had on loan from a friend for some time and probably need to return). “In Dreams” is also the title story of Schwartz’ first story collection, and it’s perhaps Schwartz’ most well known work–for good reason. “In Dreams,” which upon its publishing immediately made Schwartz a literary star, is a seven-page story with the breadth of a novel. And it was written in 1937 when Schwartz was just 23 years old.

“In Dreams” is set in Brooklyn and its narrator is a man who finds himself sitting in a movie theater, watching a scene in his parents’ life, a scene before his parents were married and before his mother gave birth to him. That is, before he existed. Here’s how the scene begins:

It is Sunday afternoon, June 12th, 1909, and my father is walking down the quiet streets of Brooklyn on his way to visit my mother. His clothes are newly pressed, and his tie is too tight in his high collar. He jingles the coins in his pocket, thinking of the witty things he will say.

From there, his father visits his mother’s home and the two take a street car to Coney Island where they spend the afternoon and evening on a (very eventful) date. I hesitate to say too much more about the story, as nearly anything more would be ruining the reading experience, which is not to be missed.

In any case, “In Dreams” had me thinking that it would be interesting to imagine a scene in the life of one’s parents. And so today’s prompt is to do just that. Begin to write a scene in the life of your parents. The scene could be based on fact or completely fictional. Perhaps, like in Schwartz’ story, the scene could take place during their courtship before you came into being. Or it could take place at any other time in their lives. Alternatively, the piece could be about an imagined scene in the life of just one of your parents. Or it could be told from the point of view of a fictional character (not yourself) and about that character’s fictional parents.