By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
‘Remember Sascha?’ is a short story by the American writer Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), included in his 1996 collection Quicker Than the Eye. The story hasn’t attracted much in the way of critical commentary, either in academic studies or analyses of Bradbury’s work or more widely in the blogosphere, so this review is a small attempt to remedy that. First, to summarise this charming little story though.
‘Remember Sascha?’ is about a young married couple, Maggie and Douglas Spaulding, living in Venice, California. They pass their days in wedded bliss. Douglas tries to write the Great American Novel, while Maggie goes to work to support him financially; in the evenings, the two of them walk to the beach and eat hot dogs and spend money at the Penny Arcade.
Then ‘Sascha’ appears in their lives. The name Sascha comes from Douglas, who’d had it on his mind for a year. He tells his wife to call the doctor, who confirms that Sascha has ‘moved in’ with them. The meaning is clear enough: Sascha is the voice of the couple’s unborn child.
Thereafter, Sascha – who is identified as male – speaks to the married couple. Through their conversations, we learn that Sascha first came to them a year ago, but they were ‘scared’ of him, and had no money, so he went. Once they have reassured him that they are glad he has come back, Sascha tells them that he has heard them talking about Halloween as the date when Sascha is expected.
He tells them he doesn’t want to be born on Halloween, but Guy Fawkes Night, which has more positive associations. As the due date comes closer, Sascha demands increasingly unusual foods to eat (representing the pregnant Maggie’s food cravings, of course), and then Halloween comes and goes and the Fifth of November, Guy Fawkes Night, arrives.
Maggie realises that it’s time to say goodbye – or is it hello? – and so she goes to the hospital and gives birth to their child, a daughter named Alexandra. Maggie tells her husband that ‘Sascha’ is a nickname or pet form of ‘Alexandra.’
‘Remember Sascha?’ is a riff on the theme of pregnancy and having children, of course. The story doesn’t so much hint at this as state it outright, through some fairly (for Bradbury) heavy-handed details. We learn that ‘Sascha’ had first come to the couple a year ago, but they had been too ‘broke’ to entertain him.
This is possibly hinting at an aborted pregnancy, or it might simply have been a conversation the couple had about starting a family (they have been married for just under a year and a half when Sascha returns), which ended with them deciding not to try for a baby yet because they’re not financially stable enough to afford starting a family.
And Sascha is as much an idea, a metaphysical concept of the unborn child, as anything else. He symbolises not just the new life that will come into the couple’s wedded bliss, their Edenic Groundhog Day which sees them doing the same thing over and over, day in, day out, and loving their life together: he also symbolises the idea that such a new life represents to the couple.
Although ‘Remember Sascha?’ is a charming tale about newlyweds expecting their first child, Bradbury doesn’t shy away from the fear and anxiety which attend upon such a momentous arrival. Douglas refers to Sascha as a Martian invader, in true science-fiction fashion, while the original projected due date for the baby, Halloween, summons horror films such as The Omen or, indeed, Halloween and also aligns the baby with death rather than life, given the association of Halloween with evil spirits and the dead returning from the grave.
But ‘Remember Sascha?’ is also about the power of names. Maggie and Douglas give names to all of their household appliances, and even have nicknames for each other, referring to themselves as Stan and Ollie, in a homage to Laurel and Hardy and hinting at their lack of seriousness (and, perhaps, their unreadiness to become parents). As an aspiring writer, Douglas would be alert to the power of a name in giving something an identity and a meaning.
But what he doesn’t have power over is the gender of their child. Although Sascha is figured as male, the baby Maggie gives birth to is female. This swerve away from the gendered expectation shared by the couple is perhaps revealing in a story which begins, in its first few paragraphs, by telling us that Maggie goes to work so that Douglas can stay at home and act out his dream of being a great writer.
However, he is not financially successful (the couple were too ‘broke’ until recently to have a baby), and there’s a rather quaint, and distasteful, gender imbalance in the Spauldings’ relationship. Perhaps Sascha the male idea-of-baby turning out to be Alexandra the female actual-baby represents a riposte to the patriarchal gender expectations Douglas has when it comes to having a child.