|Art by Sandro Castelli|
“Fixer, Worker, Singer” by Natalia Theodoridou ( words)
This story speaks to me of yearning and neglect, of decline and directionless confusion and purpose. It features a world enclosed into a factory, the sky painted on and the days turned on and off by Fixer, who was supposed to be one of a pair but is now alone in his duty, trying to keep things running even as they break down, wind down, and stop. The world as it is imagined here, as it was built by the Welder in the Sky, is almost idyllic if not that it covers the reality, that this is a munitions factory that is continuing to produce for a war that is over, where the workers are all ground to nearly nothing and the Singer, who is supposed to spread hope and beauty, is full of despair at what has happened, at what she must continue to do in the absence of the one person who made sense of things. And the Fixer, for all he imagines that his job is important, that he must keep things running, is unwilling to face what may exist outside the world of the factory, though he seems the only one capable of getting such a sight. The result is a story that feels to me like it’s speaking to basing a world around the building of arms, the industry of war that even if unused have resulted in so much wasted time and energy (and if used mean atrocity and loss of life). We see a Fixer who can only paint over the blemishes and patch up the holes in the sky while denying that this cannot last. That a machine with missing parts is not really functioning, and that the entire thing isn’t beautiful if what it produces are just artifacts of war, bullets that are designed to destroy. The story is mystery and moody, circling the missing Welder, the questions that cannot be answered about why and what now. The characters are all what they’ve been programmed to be, and without programming them to think for themselves, to take action outside of what makes them good workers or fixers or singers, they are doomed to the slow death that is creeping toward them all, when at last the sun goes out and no stars come on, and all that’s left is darkness. A great read!
“Hare’s Breath” by Maria Haskins ( words)
This story brushes against childhood ignorances and adult injustices, framing violation and blurring its edges with the fog of magic, music, and memory. The story follows a narrator who lives along a forest and whose family has taken in a young girl, Britt, after she was left with an abusive step-father when her mother ran off. The story is about the most vulnerable and how societies are often tools for their destruction and harm. Or, perhaps more accurately, how societies birth institutions to carry out the abuses that individuals balk at. The story is full of tragedies both great and small, swirling around a celebration, a festival, which acts as a sort of distraction from what’s really going on, from the horror that is being wrought while the adults look away. The tone and setting of the story take center stage, blending magic into the landscape, into the feeling of what it means to belong in this place. For all that it carries with it a certain mystery and majesty and wonder, there’s also a darkness that Britt comes to embody, the secrets and shames that people would rather be invisible, pushing their way into the conscious world, into the joy that the people of this place are hoping to have in the thrill of their festival. Britt’s fate and her mere existence, her scars and her memories, are a sort of stain that cannot be washed away, that remain with the narrator her entire li even without really knowing what was going on. It’s wrenching and it’s difficult and it does a great job of building up the scope and scale and reach of what has been done, of the damage inflicted in the name of the status quo. And it leaves its stain on the landscape, as well, though it’s a bit more subtle—the creeping shadows, the feel of deep water, and the image of a hare at the edge of the woods, ready to bolt. The ending leaves a place for hope while not erasing what’s happened, allowing the main character a spot of magic, an ounce of wonder, even as the shadows remain. For me, it’s a great way to explore identity and culture while also recognizing that culture is not without history or the weight of its worst atrocities. So yeah, another excellent read!