February at Flash Fiction Online means a focus on love. And loss. And redemption. All three stories are somewhat bittersweet, about knowing the value of something after it is gone. In some, it's not too late to do something, to fight against the tides of loss and darkness and doubt. But there is a sense of choice that runs strong and true throughout the stories, a great message for a holiday that can sometimes tout the often fraught concept of "true love." Here the love is true where it is given freely and without coercion, or it is lost because it is taken from granted. A fine way to get into the spirit of the month. Now to the reviews!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"The Magician's Assistant" by Paul Crenshaw (814 words)
This is a story about magic and love and about the magic of love, the way that the two link and twine together as seen in the way a magician's assistant and lover has left him. The feel of the story is one of loss and tragedy and the slowly dawning realization about the nature of the magician's relationship with his assistant. It's telling then, that the assistant is never named, really, and while the same can be said of the magician, the assistant is only ever defined by her relationship to him, as possession and there grows the distance between them, the way that their relationship was always not equal despite how he claims to have once treasured his assistant. The story is a story that shows the problems that can arise in a relationship, and the way that gender roles can leave people disillusioned and yearning for something else, for freedom. For all that, and while I think the story does a decent job of employing a lighter touch in revealing how the relationship broke apart, I'm not entirely sure it goes far enough for my tastes in prescribing the problems at play. [SPOILERS PROBABLY] Because while in some ways the story talks about how love is like illusion and can fade, can become mundane, that the magician here likens loving a person to seeing "behind the scenes" of magic plays somewhat into the idea that people don't know each other and the more they know the less they appreciate. Basically, the novelty wears off. Which, okay, but the story then becomes either quite jaded (love is an illusion and inevitably fades) or a little confusing (given that the magic in the story seems more than just illusion and then is there some difference between "real" magic and just illusion?). Still, the story does a nice job of capturing the feel of the magician, his sadness and loss, and I found it an interesting piece worth thinking about. Indeed.
"Love Letters on the Nightmare Sea" by Rachael K. Jones (821 words)
Okay so this is a dark and great story about terrifying jellyfish monsters that become a nightmare sea of tendrils whose merest touch cause a coma from which there is no awaking from. The story is also about long distance relationships and two women who are finally together torn apart by this disturbing situation. And I love it. The imagery is creepy and great and the idea of the way that these two women are separated is heartbreaking and intense. The narrator's care for Suneeti is obvious and resolute in the face of the terrors before her, and the way their words to each other cut through the monsters around them makes for a great metaphor for distance in relationships in general, and the story just does an amazing job making their love strong in the face of overwhelming adversity. [DEFINITELY SPOILERS FROM HERE] And okay, the way that the narrator wraps herself in her lover's words, armors herself against the distance between them using those words, echoes the way that people survive being separated, those words their armor against those questioning their relationship, and against their own doubts and fears and insecurities. The sea becomes the manifestation of the obstacles between them and their love and words to each other become both their defense, their weapon, and their means of bridging the gap between each other. That infinite sea becomes something navigable and there is the sense that, through it all, things will be okay. And wow, for such a short story it knows how to hit, how to make the relationship tragic and compelling and the ending is sweet and yup, okay, might have teared up some. It's good! Go read it!
"Sister Margo's Heart" by Raven Jakubowski (1009 words)
This story to me is about youth and choice and, in a way, informed consent. The story features a girl-turned-sister Margo, a person who has turned in her body in order to, I'm guessing, "better serve God." The story is a bit mysterious because the exact reasons for the construct-sisters is not really explained, but I'd guess the whole point of having sisters give up their bodies would be to try and divorce them from the "desires of the flesh" and thus make them more "pure." Which could just be me taking liberties with the text, but it seems to play out, as the conflict of the story comes when Margo's heart, which is supposed to be inert, crystal, begins to beat in reaction to a boy, Phillip. I quite like the line the story walks between choice and choice. Obviously the story is about consent, about what choice means when it's coerced, when it's not really a choice. Obviously Margo "decided" to give up her body, but she was made to choose before she really knew what it meant, and after having spent a long time being conditioned to do and believe what she was told. I love the way that the idea of choice is complicated and that, in effect, the story argues that no choice should be permanent. Margo becomes a different person as she grows, as she experiences life, and her past choice becomes a cage that she shouldn't be trapped by. It's a rather invigorating story, full of a quiet rebellion and I liked how the story seems to argue for a more nuanced idea of consent and body autonomy, one that empowers and leaves room for change and growth. A fine story!