|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Retelling of Jeremiah" by Kelly Sandoval (1004 words)
This is a rather sad and nostalgic story of a man looking back on his life. He's the owner of a bookstore and, more than that, the keeper of a magic to enter into stories quite literally, to experience them, to live them. At the end of his time as a shopkeeper, for he is selling the store, Jeremiah looks back on his life and finds an emptiness. A series of missed chances and disappointments. The story shows what can happen when one lives too much in other worlds, too much in story and not enough in their own life. Jeremiah's sadness and pain are understanding and yet dangerous, his urge to escape from a life that he has not really had any agency in. He wants to go back, to start over, but it's a dangerous thing, that, because the story leaves it open if it's actually possible. There is a magic that let's him enter into stories, but can he enter into his own? It's almost a time travel story in that manner, a nice twist and a very complicating factor because it asks what a person should do. If they feel they've wasted life, should they go back. Or should there be some way of trying where they are. Not opting out of the present but forging ahead through it. It's a question that the story leaves open, and I like the way it lingers, the tragedy and hope mixing in that ending. Quite an interesting story and definitely one to read.
"America, America" by Okafor Emmanuel Tochukwu (840 words)
This is a story about family, about difference, and about being gay in a place where being gay is a crime. From Nigeria, the narrator of the story schooled in America and there fell in love with a man. Back home in Nigeria, he is faced with telling his parents the truth (though his father is already dead) and dealing with the fallout. The story takes an interesting track, focusing on this moment of coming out, on the idea that America is some sort of disease, though it's quite interesting here that the disease is seen as one of perversion. Because when one looks at the ways America exports things, perversion doesn't really leap to the top of the heap in my head. That seeing America as the source of this homosexual virus is the first step the narrator's mother takes is interesting and rather shocking, reminding that for many in the world, the fight for rights is still at the stage of decriminalizing same sex relationships. That for the narrator there is no real freedom, that all he does is create grief for those around him, for his mother and his father (and I loved that the ghost-father had no ears/was unable to hear), even for his lover. That what America should be exporting is tolerance, is fighting to protect human rights. That what America has exported has largely been neo-conservative Christian ideology and money. It's a fine story, complex and challenging and affirming, that focuses on the beauty of love and the strength of people to seek it.
"Live Forever" by Anton Rose (1024 words)
This story takes a softer approach than the previous two, though it definitely exists in the same vein. here a young man avoids the funeral service of a friend in order to honor him in another way. The story is built upon lack and mystery, upon the fleetingness of life, that one person could die so quickly and, unless we are to believe there's more to the story of falling into the river (which the story does a nice job of leaving mysterious, of asking if it's important what really happened when, in the end, the death is still death), leave those close to them with that hole. The narrator in this case struggles with the idea of mortality, finds some wisdom or comfort at least in the opinions he finds. That things are worth doing even if they seem monotonous, that life is worth living, but that it is mortality that gives life its flavor, it's worth. That living forever would be boring. In some ways it's about the narrator coming to terms with the death of a friend, and realizing that there are some things that don't really have meaning, that death means absence, that life means moving on, but that at the same time death does not mean erasure, that something lingers in memory and form, that there are footprints that are not quickly washed away. It's an interesting and rather melancholy story, and it fits nicely with the idea of moving on, with starting again. Not reinvention, really, but a determination to keep going. Getting up after having been knocked down. And it's a nice way to close out the issue.