Dishing up a rather dark and disturbing and beautiful trio of stories about parents and children, the July issue of Flash Fiction Online is probably the most intense I've seen from the publication. Trigger Warnings abound [mostly loss of a child, so be warned]. These are stories that dare the reader to watch, to experience, to feel what it is to suffer and to lose and to grieve. These stories hit and they don't stop hitting, their power coming from the well of sadness and tragedy that human life can be. A reminder that there are things that so alter the world that there is no real going back. No erasing certain pains or wounds. So before I lose my nerve, it's time to review!
|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Green on the Inside" by Star Spider (554 words)
This story manages to do a lot with rough outlines. The shape of a hole, a jar of seeds, a phone call that reaches the wrong person. It's a story, to me, about grief and about generations and about tragedy. Nothing is spelled out, though, which I think lends the story an added power and poignancy, and absence that defines the story. To draw into the action of the piece, which sees a woman digging a hole, the story is guilt in a similar way, clearing away space to show a gap, a recess, a space where something used to be. [SPOILERS] And I like how the story plays with that absence, making the story one of inheritance twisted and bent. The expectations that the woman had—that her child would outlive her, that she would leave some sort of legacy behind in the form of her child, is shattered and reversed, as the younger Mirabelle is the one to die first and with that death the older Mirabelle is emptied, alone, and directionless. The story is a nice commentary on grief and especially with something so huge and complex as the loss of a child, and I quite like that Mirabelle retreats back into natural and familiar patterns. The idea of growth and renewal. The younger Mirabelle has been planted and produced new life and now the older woman wants to follow along, to give up on the ways of human reproduction that have failed her and instead embrace the plant, the green. There is almost a feeling that the loss has knocked the human out of Mirabelle Sr, left her with few options except to change, to try and grow in other ways, though the darkness and the strangeness offer little hope that her decision will bring with it any peace. Still, it's a haunting story and a fine read!
"So This" by Chloe N. Clark (973 words)
Well fuck, this issue isn't playing around. Neither is this story, which is an aching examination of loss and grief and pain and healing. Sharing many strong thematic connections with the last story, this one takes a different path in looking at how loss affects people, and in particular a person and their partner as they adopt a dog and try to find a rhythm that works for them. In the background of the story is a looming shadow, a specter of pain and memory that in some ways provoke the couple to adopt, in this case a ruby-eyed dog that follows the narrator around and into whose dreams the narrator can from time to time slip. It's a vividly imaginative piece that looks at the time the main character is left with, at home all day, alone but for their new companion. The story looks at cycles, depression and hurt and rituals that the narrator adopts along with the dog to try and cope. To try and work through the grief. [SPOILERS] And okay, once again the death of a child thread is not spelled out explicitly, it teased by the threat of memory and the lines about a child being present and then…not. And the red-eyed dog seems in some ways to be a manifestation or at least medium of guilt and grief, something that follows the narrator, that, well, dogs their steps. But the dog also seems to me to represent a way to work through it. A way to find hope amidst loss, not erasure but a slower kind of healing and acceptance. It's a beautifully strange story, and one that captures the weight and the aversion of dealing with something profound and devastating. Definitely check it out!
"Nuclear Daughter" by Lora Gray (947 words)
So this one's kinda…strange. And dark. And really, really dark, though beautifully rendered and almost tenderly obliterating. It takes a look at an end of the world, the fallout from a war that seems to have destroyed almost everything and left the rest twisted with radiation and sickness and…The narrator here is a woman twisted by the fallout, convinced that the growths that riddle her body are children struggling to escape, some new sort of child for this new sort of world. In her settlement she is shunned for her deformity and yet there is something both revolting and compellingly beautiful about the growths, about what's happening. Which is perhaps an appropriate way of portraying this because it seems to match the commentary the story makes on people as a whole. Caught in the cycles of violence, willing to unleash such horror, to ruin so much out of hate. And yet capable of such love and tenderness and compassion. Humanity, beautiful and revolting. And I like the way it moves, the way the tragedy and story unfold. Slowly but with a growing urgency, a knowledge that the end cannot be put off or avoided. This is not a happy story to me, for all it is about birth and change. To me it's something of a warning, a warning that what we birth reflects what we do, that the children born in the midst of our hate will grow twisted by it, stunted and deformed, if not so physically as the story shows. It's a strange story and one that was hard to read at times, but there's something to be gained by not looking away, by seeing what is revealed. A disturbing read, but an interesting one as well.