“Auntie Cheeks” by Renée Jessica Tan (1000 words)
No Spoilers: This story follows a narrator and her Auntie Cheeks, a woman who might be an actual relative but might just be an older woman who comes to stay in her apartment, beneath the sink. It’s a strange piece, the woman a rather more solid presence in the narrator’s life than either of their parents, who throughout the story are dealing with some messy relationship issues. It’s something of a bittersweet story, Auntie Cheeks being a source of strain within the family but also perhaps a statement on how people treat the elderly who don’t have their own place, their own independence. And it leaves most people in a place of sorrow and grief and uncertainty, the ultimate fate of Auntie Cheeks unknown. For all that, though, I also think it leaves the story pointed toward healing and hope.
Keywords: Family, CW- Separation/Divorce, Sweets, Songs, Sinks
Review: I like the way the story builds this strange situation, this woman who lives under the sink. It almost feels like something out of the narrator’s imagination, the events taking place as their first permanent memories, and there’s the question in my mind at least if Auntie Cheeks is “real” or if she’s figmentary or otherwise made up by the narrator. Whether she’s supposed to be “real” or not, though, I think the pieces builds up around the role she has for the narrator. She’s the distraction. The protection. Where the narrator turns to when the atmosphere at home gets too angry and potentially violent. Auntie Cheeks is kinda really creepy, but at the same time she’s protective, sensitive that the narrator is a child who needs some kindness. I absolutely love that the narrator keeps on trying to bring her sweets and Auntie Cheeks basically tricks them into eating them instead. It’s a small kind thing that just shines as, for me, a reason that this might be more complex than Auntie Cheeks being imaginary. And it’s heartbreaking the ending, the way that the narrator has to leave Auntie Cheeks behind. The why might be because their new home doesn’t have the space, but it might also be that they won’t need her any more. And that maybe Auntie Cheeks came to live with them because she knew she was needed. That this child was in danger and needed someone looking out for her. It’s a wrenching and complex piece, but for me ultimately a warm story about care and family, and small gestures of kindness and love. A fantastic read!
“Matches, Tower, Sister, Stone” by Lora Gray (1000 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is the younger sister of Mindi, who has Leukemia. It’s something that seems to happen quickly, and Mindi goes from building a strange city of ghosts behind the chicken coop to being stuck in a hospital to, well... And the piece captures both her feelings about that, her frustration and her grief and the love that exists between these two sisters. It also captures the emotions stirring in the narrator, who seems to be a lot more violent than her sister, who seems to be showing a lot of the “signs” traditionally associated with what used to be called a psychopath (I’m actually not sure what it’s called now but I’m 99% sure there’s a different name). And the result is a rather dark piece about family and illness, grief and anger.
Keywords: Family, CW- Cancer, CW- Death of a Child, Matches, CW- Hospitals
Review: Oof. This one hurts. It certainly does not hold back with the emotional heavy artillery, showing the physical decline of a child who can see the end coming. Who is angry at being treated like she’s incapable of understanding what is happening to her. And, next to her, her sister has to watch it unfold, too, and deal with her own feelings of helplessness and grief mingling with the urge to do harm. To light things on fire. To make people take notice in very big, visceral ways. And I like that the story takes care with the narrator without just making her a monster because of the urges she feels. It’s underlined rather boldly that she isn’t some sort of unfeeling thing. Nor does it seem to be that she lacks empathy, because she can feel what it’s like for her sister and cares about how her sister feels. But she’s scared and she’s hurt and no one is really dealing with that. Likely because the parents are so focused on their own pain and on trying to make their children feel better by assuring them that things will be okay. But it won’t, and those assurances ring as less than hollow because they don’t comfort anyone. Everyone can see that they’re lies, and the story seems to explore how those lies can lead to greater pain and grief, because the narrator feels ignored, bitter, alone. Which might, in turn, lead to a further tragedy. It’s a gripping and intense read, heavy with shadows and a feeling that things are most definitely not going to be okay. The ending is a shattering implication, a whisper that speaks volumes, and promises its own fresh horrors to come. A fine read!
“Señor Garcia’s Cold Heart” by David Urbina (974 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a child who is roped into helping a neighbor, Señor Garcia, do laundry. Because it seems that Señor Garcia has never done a load of laundry, and so needs some help. It’s a nice twist where the youth must teach the elderly about something that’s not exactly technologically advanced. But it reveals something rather heartbreaking at its core, at the reason for why Señor Garcia now needs to know how to do his laundry, and how the narrator comes to figure it out, and how they then react to it. The piece is sad but sweet, looking at the power and almost contagious nature of a heartwarming event.
Keywords: Laundry, Neighbors, Grief, Chores, Teaching
Review: I do love that the piece itself is heartwarming and also about the act of heartwarming (the verb, as you will). How in doing something kind for Señor Garcia, the narrator is also helping themself, also making themself feel better and warmer. And it’s a nicely built story, starting with the narrator treating this older man as just stubborn and grumpy because that’s how old men can be. Upset because he doesn’t want to do this chore, which might be understandable. And genuinely not sure how to do it, which at least the narrator can sympathize with because they didn’t know either until they were taught after their father stopped being able to do the laundry. But then things start to click together and it’s wrenching that moment when the narrator realizes what’s happened, when he recognizes what’s going on not as just the simple act of teaching an old man to do a chore, but having a lot to do with moving on, with surviving, with changing after so long of having something taken care of by someone else. And I love how the narrator reacts to that, how they continue to reach out after that, seeing that Señor Garcia is proud and knowing that he likely still needs a lot of help. Doing that good thing to try and spread some caring and kindness. Which gives Señor Garcia a moment of peace and warmth, which in turn makes the narrator feel the warmth of that reflected back, which in turn makes the reader feel the warmth of that as well. It’s a lovely and joyful read, tinged as it is by loss and sorrow. Definitely check this one out!