|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Brownies of Death" by Chuck Rothman (988 words)
This is a sweet story about age, about autonomy, and about kindness. The story focuses on Betty, an 85-year-old woman who lives on her own and bakes brownies for death every week. It's an interesting premise and a rather cute execution, Betty being a fun character, stubborn in her independence, in her resolve to not be old. To her, she is young as long as she feels young, and let anyone who disagrees beware. [SPOILERS?] Her daughter wants her to move into a home, but her daughter doesn't know that Betty meets with Death once a week, that they are friends, that Betty is one of the few to be kind to Death, not out of a hope to avoid her fate but because she wants to be familiar with the entity, wants to go without fear, without loneliness. And that message is what makes the story work, that idea that Death is not a grim specter, or at least doesn't need to be. That for some people Death is an old friend, that leaving the world is not something to run from but to make peace with, to sit down with over brownies. The voice of the story is sincere but humorous, the story as a whole filled with a quiet honesty. Betty makes a great main character, her charm in her knowing smile and stubborn kindness. It hits soft, but it's quite fun.
"Rewind" by Scott Baker (995 words)
This is an interesting story about a man trying to navigate a relationship by using little capsules that allow him to erase small amounts of time without him forgetting but with everyone else not knowing anything has happened. Rewind. He uses them to erase the stupid, thoughtless things he does, allowing him to stay with his girlfriend despite behavior that is obviously abusive. The story looks at how he believes the Rewind makes him a better person because it erases the evidence of his mistakes. Because he knows that he says insensitive things, knows that he's offensive and doesn't feel like he can change that. And it's an interesting question of how real the harm is that he erases. Especially in a world where saying something stupid and insensitive can have lasting effects, I'm sure certain people would love Rewind. But it shows the flaws of letting Garion and by extension people like Garion effectively undo the harm. Because Garion doesn't learn anything, then, doesn't have to think of why he's an asshole, doesn't have to try to be a better person instead of just hitting do-over. Not that people can't be forgiven for the stupid shit they say, but that it shouldn't be erased just because the person doing the harm didn't mean it. Even though it means the harm is gone, it privileges the abuser, the asshole, and not the victim, the person with less power. It's a deeper story than I thought at first, and the implications are layered and well worth exploring.
"Vaquera" by Kim Henderson (987 words)
This story turned out to be much darker than I thought it was going to be. What I thought might be a story about a young woman getting confidence through working as a mascot for her school turned out to be…well, that in part, but also about her relationship with her father, about argument and reconciliation and about guilt and need and loss. The story moves along in a fairly straight line, with Tabby becoming a mascot and dealing with her father, who is rather overbearing and wants to see her perform. The story is told with a great voice, Tabby full immersing in the role, in the anonymity and the fun and I love the way she knows she can't be the mascot she wants with her parents watching, with her father watching. And her solution to it is perfect, is powerful, as is the confrontation that follows. I was ready for all of it, but not for what comes next. Not for being knocked back by that ending which blindsided me. The tone is yearning but also humorous throughout, wry and rebellious. But the ending brings things deathly serious, and things get real real quick, the lingering message one not of regret but of loss, not of guilt but of the difficulty of navigating growing up and standing up for yourself. The ending almost hits too hard given the rest of the story, but I think that ultimately it does a great job of complicating its message, makes it more than just dealing with unreasonable parents, though it's about that as well. It's about loving an imperfect person, about family and about childhood and growing up. A nice way to close out the issue.