|Art by Joey Jordan|
“What the Sea Reaps, We Must Provide” by Eleanor R. Wood (827 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is a local to a small town with a dark secret. They are also the human to two dogs, Bailey and Bernie, and the piece opens with them all on the beach playing fetch. Everything seems normal until it’s time to go, until the narrator and their dogs are caught on the seawall path by that dark secret. And a sacrifice has to be made, though it might not take the form that most would expect. It’s a tense and delightfully built story, aiming for one tragedy that seems unavoidable only to sidestep the worst of it and resolve into something not light, exactly, but incredibly relieving. It’s a fun piece, full of mood and danger, but refusing to break the hearts of readers everywhere (unless somehow a dog is reading this, in which case, be prepared to be sad, doggo).
Keywords: Dogs, Walks, Seas, Sacrifices
Review: I love the way this story builds itself emotionally and thematically, making everything charged and loaded, taught in a way that tragedy seems to be inevitable. Because the idea of sacrifice is so strong here that the narrator gives it this unavoidable feel, so that when things start to go bad, it seems like of course the story is going to hit directly in the most vulnerable of feels. People love animals, after all, and people have special connections to their pets, and dogs especially are often used in fiction and media as a way to really make us fucking sad by killing them. It’s almost expected because of how prevalent it is, and I must say I was very ready for the noble sacrifice to be one of the dogs. The whole story seems aimed at that, and making the narrator have this visceral regret that they are participating in this ritual that they shouldn’t be. As if the sacrifices are only happening because they are most often happening to “someone else” and so people never have to really face what it means. Which tends to be a bit moralistic, given that most forms of economics and governance require similar deals with the devil in some way or another. And I just really love how the story handles the sacrifice that’s made, with no less weight than had it been something different. And that’s what gets me, that the sacrifice has to _mean something_. It can’t just be throwing away something unwanted. And the story totally sets up the ending even as it came as something of a surprise for me. It’s delightful, bittersweet, and heart-meltingly good. Go check this one out, people. A wonderful read!
“Dogwood Stories” by Nicole Givens Kurtz (2880 words)
No Spoilers: Sadie is a girl excited to attend the local Dogwood Art Festival, which celebrates a tree important to Knoxville and especially important to Sadie and her family. They mean transformation. They mean death. Which ends up being rather ominous given what happens when Sadie arrives at the festival. The piece is chilling and dark and just a bit sudden. Not that the events aren’t foreshadowed, but that they arrive with shattering force, completely changing everything and putting Sadie into contact with a presence she’s only even felt at a distance. At the cusp of going through her own transformation, Sadie is faced with the connections she’s never been able to see before, reminded that history is a living thing still growing into the present and future.
Keywords: Trees, Hair, CW- Mass Shootings, Family, History, Death
Review: This is a story that doesn’t look away from some difficult aspects of the past and present, taking on both the history of racial violence and killing woven into the landscape of Knoxville, as well as the more recent legacy of mass shootings on the rise across the country. It connects the dots, as it were, placing these in the same tradition, the same violence. And Sadie, even as a young girl, knows exactly what it all means. She sees the dogwood as a sort of symbol for transformation, growing from a story she heard about the tree being used for crosses for crucifixions until after Jesus, at which point God changed the trees so that the tree would be fin and unable to be used in the same way. Which some might see as a loss for the tree, but which Sadie sees as an easing of a burden. As a relief from a tree that could not help what it was used for. The trees become witnesses, became watchers of history, and became a sort of community for those who have been used, who have been set free. The piece is dark and unsettling because of the subject matter but also because how unremarkable it is in some ways. How familiar it is. How closely linked tragedy and history are entwined, especially in certain places, but how beauty mixes into the sadness. The beauty of the dogwood trees, and the beauty of the idea that change can happen. That maybe we can change our guns into something else, something beautiful, something without the power to kill any longer. And maybe we can change ourselves, too, so that these things stop happening. So that the pages of history are not overwritten with the names of the dead filling the margins up to bursting. And until then, at least there are the trees, waiting to welcome those who fall along the way, and ease their burdens, and offer them safety without complication. A great read!