|Art by Dario Bijelac|
"Vernal Fall" by Edward Ashton (868 words)
This is a rather wrenching story about memory and about grief about where we choose to live following loss. The story centers Garrett and his daughter and the complicated metal loops that he takes himself through surrounding [SPOILERS] her death. The story is deeply emotional and I like how it's framed as something that's taking place much later under rather mysterious circumstances (probably he's being helped by mental health professionals who find his fixation on this moment unhealthy and want to move him past it). And I like that as the story moves forward we learn a bit more about what "really" happened, and how this moment has warped Garrett. At first I will admit that some of the story made me hesitate, because in this moment of panic his grown daughter seems to become just a child calling out for her daddy, which isn't exactly the most progressive of messages, especially when one realizes that the story is using her death as a plot device solely for the emotional toll it takes on Garrett. But then [AND OKAY AGAIN, SPOILERS] the story twists a bit, and each retelling of the events surrounding her death make the story, for me, more and more interesting. Because it moves from a story where he's there, where he's hearing her, to a story where he's nowhere close and he tells himself that she must have needed him in the end, that she must have called out for him in the end, as a way of making her death more about him. And this is a very vivid portrayal of someone dealing with grief and especially with a father dealing with the vestiges of paternal misogyny surrounding his daughter. He won't accept her death because he wasn't there to protect her, wasn't there to keep her off the rocks or, at least, wasn't there to die with her and comfort her in her last moments, which is what he imagines she needed. For him it's so much more comforting to make the story about that instead of being open about his own emotions surrounding her death. And I like that the story ends by showing how damaging his illusion, his fantasy is to him. And yet how it is also comforting to the point that he blocks out everything else. A fascinating read!
"Women's Work" by Amelia Aldred (994 words)
This is a story about debt and about work and about hope and death. The story is about the harsh realities of life and about the price of doing something for free and how that changes how people perceive a person (especially a woman). The story is about talent and skill in many ways, as the main character has a gift to see and talk to ghosts, a gift that many women in her family have had. A gift that her mother had, who is being buried at the opening of the story. And I love how the story looks at expectations and roles. The main character's mother was expected to work for free with her gift, to give away her services because it "was the right thing to do." But this only led to her and the main character struggling to live, a trend that will get even worse for the main character after her mother's passing. And the story becomes about taking control and fighting back against the stigma that will always exist for marginalized people seeking to make money. Women have been historically expected to just give away their labor, and if they need to live then they should work even harder. If they don't then they are seen as selfish and evil and unwomanly. But the main character of the story sees that and really isn't in a position to care. [SPOILERS] And so she makes the decision to put her care as a priority. She bucks tradition and in doing so people rage at her. Call her names. But still need her. And it's that need that fuels their cruelty, because they aren't allowed to take her work for granted. It's an interesting and complex story and I love how it plays out. Definitely a story to check out!