|Art by Dario Bijelac
“Ice Cream and English Summer” by Sunyi Dean (1000 words)
No Spoilers: The hits just keep coming as a couple copes with what seems to be their first pregnancy and the fact that the narrator, the pregnant woman, has been fired from her job. In the summer heat, the couple makes a routine of going out and getting ice cream. Despite the cost. Despite what happens. This is a wrenching and tragic piece, about loss in various forms and, for me, about coping. It shows this couple getting through some incredibly difficult times, not always incredibly well, but with a push toward helping each other through. It’s about care, about grief, and about something sweet even when the world seems a bitter place indeed.
Keywords: CW- Loss of a Child, CW- Pregnancy, Ice Cream, Relationships, Care, Employment
Review: This is a very difficult story, because of the grief that it traces in the characters, because they go from losing a job to losing a house to losing a pregnancy to losing another job, and though there are gains in there as well, it really does capture this sense that these people’s lives are spiralling. That they are losing more than just things. And I love that through this shared ritual of ice cream they are able to help each other through. Even when they don’t want to eat it. Because it’s important to acknowledge that the world isn’t only a terrible place. That it’s not only a lonely place. That there is another person in this instance to help and to care for the other person. That they help each other, taking turns when the other is having a worse time of it, stepping into each other’s roles because sometimes that’s what has to happen. Even when the same words don’t always work twice. They still find ways forward, and ways back to each other. It’s a lovely if somewhat haunting tale, and for me I think it does get at things that make people really question themselves, their lives. And I like that it shows how sometimes the caregiver in a situation can find themself also very much in need of care, and how that situation can change, the narrator’s partner knocked down harder after seeming to come through all right otherwise. And then it shows how they can be helped back up. How they can perhaps begin to heal, by holding to what they mean to each other, and what they’ve shared that’s helped them to this point.. A tender and emotional read!
“Slaked Lime, Iron Knife” by Aparna Nandakumar (985 words)
No Spoilers: A priest walks through a forest followed by a yakshi, a monster. She is lovely, and she uses her wiles to trap men into a sort of bargain that, unguarded, allows her to consume them. The priest is not only wise to her nature, though, but also well prepared to deal with her. Armed with iron and with magic stones, he can get rid of her easily, even permanently if he wanted. And yet something in him doesn’t want to. It’s a piece that focuses very much on longing and attraction, on danger and the pull to embrace it. And, perhaps, it’s about a man who is supposed to have a firm control over his urges, who is supposed to be in service of a higher power, finding that the power of his own body, and a particularly magnificent woman, might be enough to shatter his vows.
Keywords: Monsters, Bargains, Banishment, Attraction, Priests
Review: I do love the attraction at work in this story, between these characters, the way that the yakshi doesn’t really care that he has iron, that it doesn’t frighten her. Or, perhaps, it’s more that she is frightened, but something about that fear also excites her, also makes her want to pull it closer, to embrace it. And the priest, for all that he knows the stories and what he’s supposed to do, finds that perhaps he isn’t quite so difficult himself. That what he sees in this yakshi isn’t evil, really, but rather a powerful force to be reckoned with. Not just a collection of rules and tricks, but a woman who knows what she wants. In some ways I feel like both of them end up attracted to the other for the ways that both of their power makes them vulnerable and immune from the other. They know the situation and it offers them a sort of safety to explore parts of themselves that they rarely get to experience. For her, it’s finding someone who sees through her, who sees beneath the illusion she maintains to bring prey. For him, it’s finding someone who sees through him, as well, beneath his illusions of control. And they can begin, then, to negotiate evenly, her offering him something without promises and him too rigid ultiately to accept, to afraid of what it might do not to his body but to his faith. For me, at least, it’s a story about the failure not of the yakshi to seduce the priest (because she definitely does) but rather the failure of the priest to come to terms with his own desires, hiding behind his vows in order to maintain his illusion of pious safety. And it’s really a fun and rather tense read, sensuous in subtle ways and a joy to read!
“Ghost of the Pepper” by M.K. Hutchins (988 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story grows peppers. But not just ordinary peppers. No, through the way that they grow the peppers, they end up absorbing the griefs and the lingering traces of the dead. Through being taken into the peppers, the narrator hopes to be able to release that energy and let the dead truly rest. And most of the time, things go just fine. Indeed, the extra grief gives the peppers an added depth to their flavor, whether that’s a sweetness or a heat. For a certain pepper, though, the narrator finds that their usual tactics for dealing with the peppers doesn’t work, and they have to shift their tactics if they hope to lay to rest the feelings of regret and sorrow that this ghostly ghost pepper contains.
Keywords: Peppers, Death, Grief, Cooking, Heat
Review: I love the idea that there are peppers are somehow taking the essence of the dead and transforming them...into flavor! Especially with peppers, proud members of the nightshade family, there is something so fitting about that because, well, because you can have two peppers that look fairly similar in size and color and then you can bite into them and one is sweet as can be and the over will basically kill you with fire. And I just love that here is this narrator trying to do right by ghosts but on the down low. They don’t seem to want the recognition or anything for what they’re doing—they just want to help the dead and eat some tasty peppers. Which mostly is exactly what they do. Except that in trying to help the dead, sometimes there are hurts that are far too intense for one person. That produce something like this black ghost pepper, which fucking sends the narrator to urgent care. And it’s this part of the story that I feel really deepens the metaphor here, because it shows that people live with all different levels of grief, and what might be baseline for one person is not at all okay for someone else. Like spicy food, if you’re not used to it, even a little can knock you on your ass. And even for the hardened pepper fiend, there are some that will still mess you up if you try to take them on all alone. And so I do just love that the “answer” to this is that sometimes...you don’t need to take them on all alone. For the narrator, it’s a moment of realizing that sharing the peppers, something they’ve always hesitated about because they wanted to “do the right thing” might actually be the selfish act, and that opening up and sharing can be a way to really help in ways that they alone could not have done. And it’s a sweet (and spicy!) read that’s a wonderful way to close out the issue!