|Art by Matthew Davis|
Four short stories and a poem make for a fairly standard month at Fireside Magazine, though it's perhaps a little unusual that none of the fiction falls under 1000 words. It doesn't mean the stories are long, but the extra words give the month a bit more of a melancholy feel. The stories are infused with loss and yearning, with characters moving through a world that is often harsh, often corrupt, and filled with trauma. War, governmental abuse, and complex family dynamics make for a wrenching bunch of stories, and for me there's a sense of wondering what can be done in the face of loss suffered when relatively powerless. How it complicates and deepens hurts. But before I give too much away, let's get to the reviews!
“Your Inheritance Will Taste of Salt” by Karolina Fedyk (1820 words)
No Spoilers: This is a generational story, told by a person thinking about their mother and grandmother. Trying to make sense of the stories they’ve been told. Stories that came out of the shattering aftermath of war, where their grandparents disappeared, their lives resolving into a mystery, a blank space around which their mother crafted a story and passed it on. And how true that story is, and what it means if it is or isn’t, is what dominates a lot of the piece for me. It’s heavy with loss and the scars of history, looking at the cages that people find themselves trapped in, knowing that escape might not be possible or permanent.
Keywords: Selkies, Skins, War, Marriage, Family, Seas
Review: I do love how the story weaves together magic and history, telling this family story of a witch and a fisherman who are caught up in a war and lost to it. Because there is a...we’ll say mundane explanation for everything. That the story is the product of trauma, a coping mechanism for the narrator’s mother who needed a way of framing the loss of her parents. So she inserted magic into the uncertainty and terror of war, because it gave her something that she needed. That helped her survive. And a generation removed and the grandchild of these missing people is still dealing with the inherited trauma, unsure of how to think about what they’ve found up. The only history they have is one tinged with magic, a fairy tale version of their own familial past. And they can reject that, insist that there is a logical and tragic explanation. Because it’s not like those are scarce on the ground. Their world is full of them because of the war, and the aftermath. Taking one of those would make them more...normal, perhaps. But the magic also speaks to them because of their own difference, the ways that they aren’t normal or safe. And in examining the magic in their family stories they are reaching for hope, that maybe there is a way for them to escape, to do more than just survive. It’s a beautiful and wrenching sentiment, and it makes for a great read!
“Chiripas” by José González Vargas (1493 words)
No Spoilers: This story chronicles an infestation of a country by small bugs called Chiripas. They are a nuisance at first, but one that everyone thinks is manageable. Until they aren’t. Until they’re much more than people thought. And they expose the corruptions in the country, the ways that institutions that are supposed to help things instead deepen the hurt felt by the largest percent of the population. The piece is about insects but it’s also about failure in governments, and the damage that does, and the scars it leaves. How even getting away from the country isn’t enough to ease the mark that such a situation leaves on a person. It feels almost Kafka-esque to me, the State trying its best to treat people like bugs while ignoring the true infestation that is corruption.
Keywords: Insects, Food, Corruption, Infestations
Review: There is a quiet pain that infuses this story with a power and familiarity that speaks to corrupt systems. The country here has a problem that it deals with at first as it can. It doesn’t seem like a thing. Except it gets worse. And worse. And as it impacts standards of living more and more, people expect some action from their government—which does come, but only to insulate those with the most wealth and power while demanding that the greater population just accept things. The government opts out of its responsibility toward its citizens, instead becoming a gaslighting force trying to tell people that there is no problem, and anyone caught saying otherwise will be punished. And its this kind of systemic abuse that’s really hard to deal with, because it speaks to so many ways that we are abused. That children are raised. That feels like it’s impossible to push back against because in the face of people acting in bad face, there is no argument that is good enough to “convince” people that there is a problem and that they should act. They just won’t, because it’s not about the truth, or arguments, but about power and holding onto what they have. And I just love the ending, the way that the people who live through this are traumatized by it, hyperaware of how they need to try and avoid the bugs, the marks of corruption. And how for those who have not lived through it, it seems ridiculous. Comical even. Only it’s very, very serious. The story hits this mark and hits it hard, leaving me as a reader a bit shaken, with the faint feeling that there are bugs crawling all over my skin. Definitely a piece to check out!
“My Sister Is a House” by Zoë Medeiros (1452 words)
No Spoilers: This story looks at two sisters. One is the narrator, a soldier and a wanderer, who has a tendency to go, to travel, to never really settle. The other is her sister, who is a house. Which, given the title, isn’t really a spoiler. But it’s an interesting and tender look at family, at siblings, and at the deep kinship that these sisters have, despite their differences. For me, it’s a piece that explores expectation and how a person’s nature can be very different from even the person they are closest with. It’s a bit haunting, too, revealing situations that on their surface seem like they are isolated and must be lonely. Diving deeper into the text, though, I’m not so sure that’s the case...
Keywords: Transformations, War, Family, Houses
Review: So as I said above, there’s a certain lonely feeling that I want to feel from the text. The characters are solitary, pulled apart even as they remain linked by their sisterhood. But both women leave in different ways, something that they didn’t seem to expect, given they were told growing up how similar they were. At the same time, all of it also feels natural, feels like them coming into themselves. They might have seemed on the same road when they were children, but as they grow they feel what’s right for them and they pursue it. Which again, I want to say leaves them rather isolated, rather alone. Except it doesn’t. And saying that it does would be putting my own values on their decisions, would be failing to understand that this is not only what they’ve chosen, but what makes them happy. They find peace with one another, peace in the shape and trajectory of their lives. There isn’t any anger between them, nor even disappointment. They still care for and accept one another even when other people don’t seem to understand. And they have each other, and have their lives, and there doesn’t seem to be a problem. The story, which does feel a bit melancholy at times, full of war and hurt, is really more full of life, messy as it is sometimes. It’s no tragedy what happens with the sisters. They live as best they can, embracing their natures even when it seems to keep them apart, and completely accepting the other as whole and able to make their own decision. Which ends up being a complex but heartwarming experience definitely worth spending some time with. A fine read!
“All the Hometowns You Can’t Stay Away From” by Izzy Wasserstein (2211 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds in the second person, where you are a person travelling through an infinite assortment of alternate realities. Or alternate simulations, perhaps, as the theory goes that every universe sophisticated enough to produce a simulated reality produces all of them simultaneously, including some that might produce simulations of their own, and on and on. You come from a reality that has discovered that it’s a simulation, and has rigged devices that can transport a person through them. Fleeing a family situation, you are one who snaps through realities, circling the same old hurts, old traumas, and occasionally meeting with other versions of your family, other versions of yourself, as you try to come to terms with what has happened. It’s a deep and wrenching read, focused backward even as the past is not a world you can travel to.
Keywords: Simulations, Alternate Realities, Queer MC, Family, CW- Cancer
Review: So much of this story speaks to me of regret and yearning. Of wanting to find some world that doesn’t carry with it all the pain, all the rejection, all the baggage of the one that we live in, that you live in. And in the story you go out looking for that, not really sure what it means, still very young and not ready to really face that your mother is dying of cancer and your own messy feelings about a woman who has hurt you deeply. Things aren’t simple here, and the act of always returning to different versions of your home is emotionally powerful, a way for you to wonder not just what might have been, but what still be. Because you never really faced the death of your mother, she’s still out there. Still a cat in a bag in the dark, neither alive nor dead, always suspended in the moment years ago when you left. And there’s that question of if leaving was the “right” call. Meaning I guess the “best” call. Was it what you needed to do in order to live, in order to survive, in order to be yourself in a way you needed? Or was it unhealthy, just a retreat from something that should be faced, that needs to be faced? The answer isn’t ever clear here, because life doesn’t have those neat answers, cannot tell you exactly how it would have gone had things been different. Or, in the case of this story, it can tell you exactly what might have been and it still would do nothing to really show what you should do with your choice, your reality. The truth seems to be that there’s no going back. And that it might be time for you to turn to the future and begin to explore what you want without worrying as much about what might have been. Not that it will lead you away from your hurt. Not that it will erase it. But that in order to live in the future you’re snapping into, you have to be fully there, and not tied to a damage that cannot be undone. There will be scars from it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look with hope on the future. It’s a beautiful read, full of a quiet intensity, and you should definitely go out and read it!
“Mother Tongue” by Jessica Jo Horowitz
This piece speaks to me of, well, of speaking. About language and inheritance. It features a narrator and an idea—an image of a person opening their mouth and their mother emerging. Which is rendered literally but which feels to me more figurative, that what the narrator is waiting for is to speak the language their mother spoke, a language that they don’t really know, that they don’t even have the physiology to speak, because language influences the vocal chords and the body, shaping the person physically even as language shapes the ways that people experience the world. And it’s a careful and rather wrenching look at the loss that comes from not having a language that was a part of your heritage, that didn’t get passed down for whatever reason. And the piece does just a lovely job of weaving this, of linking language to body, to self-perception, through this scene of the narrator looking at themself in the mirror. They are searching for something, waiting for something, hoping for something that doesn’t seem like it will show, that is not encoded the visual ways they might resemble their mother. So there is this gap, this absence, that the narrator seems to be exploring, prompted perhaps by a feeling of loss, of yearning, of wanting to have this connection back to a person who might be gone now or otherwise inaccessible. Or, if not, if still present, yearning for a connection through the language, through the words that cannot be precisely translated. For me it’s a complex look at heritage and identity, the narrator tracing their own outlines and wondering if something that has to now not been in evidence might emerge, might surface. Knowing that it probably won’t, but also knowing that some things seem to go beyond logic or genetics, toward hope, as irrational as it might be. A beautiful poem!