KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 1: Fall 2014
Flash Fiction: 989 words

Two Sides to Every Story

by Justin Key

When I asked Mom why my father left, she said there are three sides to the story: “mine, your father’s, and the truth!” So I built a time machine.


The year is 1986. The restaurant is low-grade. A short, thin woman with bushy hair and caramel skin leans across her table to whisper to a man she has never seen before.

“Excuse me,” she says. The man looks over. He is Aaron Lacey, my father. “I can’t help but ask. Can I have a taste of your soup? It’s chicken soup, right?”

I’ve heard this story before. This impromptu sharing eventually leads to my conception. Interesting, but I seek the end, not the beginning. I sync the machine to my father’s timeline. I’ve only moved twelve hours through his future when something grabs my attention.

The woman sitting on the couch of Aaron’s third-floor apartment isn’t my mother. I remember her from pictures; she shouldn’t show until after my existence. They kiss, or argue. I can’t really tell which; strings of emotion, color, and narrative are thick in this place.

I pause matter and walk around the frozen two. Definitely arguing. The fierceness of their anger sprouts only from love. Their photographs decorate the apartment. Until now, I’d thought my mother came first.

When people ask about my father, I tell a brief story: “I have two half-brothers. The oldest is seven months younger than me. As you can see, my dad was out of the picture pretty quickly. Ha ha ha.” I always laugh to lighten the mood. But now my story has to change. How soon was my father out of my life? Before. He had his family planned out. I was a detour. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll laugh when I say it.

I consider retreating to the present. Yet something tugs at my memory: a gem of advice from my father when I was seven. “One day you’re going to meet a girl and get her pregnant. Then you’ll have a choice to make: either you marry her, or you leave her.” I remember thinking, even then, that he wasn’t talking about me, or my brothers.

I zip past the few months my parents lived together, past my father reuniting with the other woman to start a family without me, past even that. Aaron Lacey is now a father by formality alone. He calls for a birthday, but sends no gift. He pops up every few years, but there’s no excitement. He moves to Atlanta without my knowledge. At first intriguing, the cycle of cigarettes, band practices, and women eventually bores me. I doze in the machine as time slips by.

I wake to a woman weeping. She isn’t yet showing but I can see the baby’s spirit in her belly. She’s new to me. I have no context; I rewind time to find it.

The woman turns to my father in bed. “You ever think about having kids?” she says. Her womb is yet to be filled.

He laughs. “Not with you.”

“Oh, don’t be a meanie.” She lays back and dreams with open eyes. “They’d be cute, don’t you think? Your deep set eyes and my nose.”

“Listen, woman. We got a good thing going here, but I’m not about to marry you.”

The woman frowns and rolls away. “Yeah. I got it.”

“You sure? Because if you get knocked up, Cheryl, either you get rid of it or I’m out of here.”

“I said, I got it.”

Rage blurs my perspective. I can’t see the past for the future. I detach from my father and sync to Cheryl. Her sorrow devours my anger. I follow her timeline, afraid of what lies ahead.

“You know what I told you,” Aaron says. He is putting on a suit, looking in the mirror and not at Cheryl, who sits quietly on the bed. The spirit in her still-flat belly shifts, as if in response to its father’s voice.

“I’ll take care of it,” she says.

“Good.” He walks away.

The next day Cheryl arrives at a clinic. A woman who looks like an older and thicker twin joins her in the waiting room.

“He doesn’t want a kid,” Cheryl says. “Not right now.”

“But what do you want?” her sister says.

“I want both.” Cheryl bursts into tears. “He’s right. We have a good thing going.”

“If he loves you, he won’t leave you.”

The day fades, giving way to night. The air is thick in the small apartment. Cheryl stands in front of my father. Their voices are carried off by a wind I cannot feel. I wish I could hear the words, but a part of me believes that Cheryl’s moment of triumph is immensely personal, and thus protected. At least some of her tears are of joy.

My father doesn’t interrupt. Cheryl hugs him when she’s done. He lets her. Then he walks out of the room, packs whatever bags he has, gets into his car, and drives off. I stay with Cheryl.

Years roll by. The face of my sibling is hidden from me. Is it a girl or boy? Does he look like me, or more like my half-brothers, whom I’ve watched grow up over Facebook? I wait for my father to call, to write, to show up, enlightened. Nothing. Only Cheryl and her child. In some ways, Aaron’s youngest was lucky. The kid could dream up a father, while her secret siblings know reality too well.


Back in the present, I check for disruptions in the space-time continuum and power down the machine. Then I destroy it. The next time I’m asked about my father, I recite the same script and laugh louder, smile harder. My mother had it wrong. There are only two sides: the truth we tell ourselves, and the truth we tell others. What “really happened” is just research.

Justin Key
Issue 1, Fall 2014

Was born with a book in his hand. He blended his passions for science and writing by penning short stories in middle school and sat down to draw up his first novel while studying Biology at Stanford University. He’s been writing ever since.

His short stories have appeared in The Colored Lens and Fiction365, as well as in the revolutionary children’s iPad application, FarFaria. He held a writing advice blog for several years at and worked as a professional health blogger and content editor at WellnessFX while applying to medical school. Justin’s medical training richly informs his writing, and the power of story and narrative allows him to connect with patients on a deeper level.

Justin lives in Manhattan with his wonderful wife and son. Even as a full-time student at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, he finds ample time to write. Just don’t ask him how he does it; he wouldn’t be able to tell you.

He blogs at:

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