|Art by Mihály Nagy|
“Speak Easy, Suicide Selkies” by E. Catherine Tobler (7557 words)
No Spoilers: It’s a return to Jackson’s Unreal Circus and Mobile Marmalade, this time through the eyes of Grand Duchess Maria Romanov, the circus’s fat lady. The story opens well before Maria is Maria, when she’s a young and terminally ill young woman named Louise, and she finds a sealskin on the beach. What follows is a tale of transformations, of people in pain and despair finding in the waves a sort of magic and freedom that comes with escape, that comes with being accepted for who they are. And Maria, as she takes to calling herself, finds happiness and, eventually, finds that she wants to return to the land, with a new skin and a new health, where she finds a home among the homeless and strange and magical. The piece captures a sort of wild wonder and contrasts it with the suffocating reality of abuse and sickness and despair. And it finds women helping women to find a better place, where they can be safe and heal from their injuries.
Keywords: Circuses, Selkies, Sharks, CW- Suicide, Transformation, Skins, Queer MC
Review: Like all of the Jackson’s Unreal Circus stories that I’ve read, there’s a palpable darkness to this piece, one that surrounds how Maria finds her way beneath the tents. Her life, and the lives for those she helped escape dry land, were not happy ones. Their act of giving themselves to the water is both a death and not a death, a suicide and not a suicide. At the least, it is a destruction of one form for the transformation into something else. Into a selkie who can live between worlds, and who can have the freedom to get away from the abuse and tragedy that targeted these women on the shore. For Maria, it’s part of what drives her, this connecting with people, finding those in pain and helping them through. Either in the sea or in the circus, she revels in her body, in herself, in her power. When the original owner of the sealskin that allowed her freedom returns, though, it gives her pause, makes her want to act selfishly, defensively. And I love how the story addresses that, following Maria as she takes ownership of her decisions and her successes, while not running from what needs to happen. Though she has always helped people as she could, this kind of help is frightening, because it means leaving no easy escape route. It means giving up the very power that allowed her to get to a better place. Only, now in a better place, she realizes that she no longer needs that escape. She’s changed, and grown strong, and it’s time to allow someone else what she had access to. And it’s a wrenching and beautiful story with a lifting feel of magic and power. A great read!
“The Scrimshander” by Damien Krsteski (1995 words)
No Spoilers: A caricaturist deals with the demands of his editor while his daughter suffers from a mysterious disease that is ravaging the city. Despite the immediacy of the problem, though, the widespread death and growing unease, the newspaper and the government at large seems more interested in pushing the story of the Scrimshander, a sort of bogeyman who is supposed to represent someone to project that fear onto in order to transform fear into hatred. For the caricaturist, made not only spectator but participant in this spectacle, in this willful muddying of the truth, it comes with the knowledge that he’s helping those in power not seek to help him or his family. And from there, the story becomes about what one person can do, and what one person should do, when faced with authoritarian bullshit and widespread corruption.
Keywords: Newspapers, Disease, Loss, Family, Propaganda, Fear
Review: There are a lot of things that aren’t exactly explained within this story. The origin of the Scrimshander, for one, is never really expanded upon. Nor what exactly Mallinos is, aside from sort of black hole that resides in the sky near the city, and which might be causing the sickness. Whatever the case, the real point of the story doesn’t to me seem to require explanations. Because the real point for me is what’s happening with the caricaturist and his family. How his wife is dead, his child dying. How he is powerless in the face of that. And how that powerlessness can lead him in different directions. But that it needs shape, needs direction. The editor and the politicians are trying to get him to aim that at the Scrimshander, and yet it’s a ruse, a trick. More and more he sees the true face of evil, the true face to blame for what’s happened to him and his family. And it means that he finds a direction to move, finds something To Do. And that becomes vital in all of this, because the point of the propaganda is to get people to do nothing. To accept that this bogey is to blame so that the editor can craft a story that will give people a sort of emotional release without ever having to take responsibility for what happens. And I like that the story holds action as necessary here, shows the caricaturist standing up and resolving to resist, to rebel, and to wake the people up to what’s really going on. It’s a short, but invigorating read!