Kicking off the new year right, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination is back with two very short stories that still manage some weight, some punch, and so depth. The stories both fall into the fantasy side of thing, but more than that both feature characters dealing things things a bit out of the ordinary, magical events that, at first, they weren't really ready to deal with and now have become...well, not used to them, but they are now able to act. To face the strangeness and the powers that seem aligned against them and to take moral action. The stories pair well and I should just get to reviewing them.
"While I Wait" by Layla Al-Bedawi (476 words)
This is a very short but striking story about the dead and our relationship to them. In it a person feeds the dead a bit of milk, a sort of last meal that sends them on their way. I love the emptiness of the story, the loneliness that I felt from the narrator and the very subtle use of the first person voice. Because the person is talking to someone, a "you" that is implied but never seen, which could be almost anyone but seems to be an absent child. Nothing is given explicitly but there's a great feeling to that, an unspoken sadness. Is the person speaking to someone alive, or also dead? When and how did this begin? There is a bit of mystery that is probably unavoidable with so short a work but this story uses it to its advantage, creating a space around that lack that the reader falls into, that I found myself falling into, feeling for this person and their isolation and their ability to see and help the dead. [PROBABLY SOME SPOILERS] And the story lingers on the image of the ghosts drinking and then dissipating, the question of what happens and the obvious doubts that the person has, perhaps a fear coming from what happened to that "you" character. In any even the story paints a great picture of compassion in the face of loss and the persistence of grief and strength, that this person who perhaps has experienced death on a personal level is able to empathize with those that most others would avoid. A fine story!
"Girl in Blue Dress (1881)" by Sunil Patel (748 words)
This story tackles erasure in a most literal and delightful fashion. In it, a woman is captured in oils, actually transformed into a painting, a living commentary on how women are erased in art, their names lost and their roles reduced to models, as if their beauty is not part of what makes art great, as if it is only the skill of the painter. Here the woman languishes in her imprisonment, powerfully aware of her situation and loss, silenced and invisible to the crowds that come in to scrutinize, to judge, to admire. She is reduced then to a figure, an object to be traded, as women have been so often reduced, stripped, betrayed, made into something that can only relate to the artist, with agency or history of her own. Her revenge, when it comes, doesn't exactly make anything right [AND SPOILERS FROM HERE, OKAY?] but there comes a time when that doesn't matter as much. Especially when it comes to historical record which is so skewed toward those who write it, taking away the artist here makes the text, the painting, once more about the subject. Of course, it might as easily be that the mystery would become "who is the artist?" in a drive to attribute the work to some unnamed man which would still have more importance than the woman trapped. Still, I like the way that it captures the only option open, not to really break free but to complicate, to at least bring a measure of parity to the erasure. It is revenge, yes, and as with most revenge it cannot undo the damage done, but it can at least stop the artist, or remove his name and by it his authority as "creator," can at least challenge the comfortable narrative and push toward a more complete picture of the past, an examination instead of a blind acceptance. Another good one!