May brings a slew of mother-themed stories at Flash Fiction Online, only one of them speculative but all of them wonderful in their own way. The mothers in the stories aren’t always the main characters. They don’t always have all the answers. But they are largely defined by their willingness to treat their children as people, regardless of what age they are. And that’s something deeply moving to see, definitely worthy of celebrating in this well-paired issue of flash fiction. To the reviews!
“Bedtime Snacks for Baby” by Catherine George (993 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds as mother tells her child a a story. A story about their family, and why they are where they are, and what they expect to happen next. The narrator speaks, an occasionally the text works around the absence of words with placeholders, with descriptions of what the word would be without actually using them. Which becomes more and more important as the piece progresses, and the truth is laid out in no uncertain terms. It’s a heartwarming story that for me speaks to generational change and revolution, and the bright promise of the future that requires some level of destroying the past. It’s quiet and sweet but with an edge to it, a danger that has implications far beyond this one small family.
Keywords: Language, Eating, Queer MC, Family, Stories
Review: I love the way this story approaches language and generational change, the way that this child can eat language and in so doing remove things from the lexicon. It seems at first such a dangerous thing, so fraught and difficult because it could be so destructive, taking so much from the language, these words that people use every day that would be suddenly gone. And yet the story never really indulges in the idea that this is wrong, that this is something that the child needs to be stopped from doing. Because the child’s moms both know that what’s important is giving their child an opportunity to grow and be nourished however they need to be. If that means eating words, then that’s what it means, and they’ll deal with the change, knowing that whatever change happens, they can meet it. Knowing that for all the destruction of what they know, what’s been comfortable, there is a future for all of them that might be completely different, but that they can help grow and flourish, and that it will be something beautiful and alive and wonderful. And even if they miss the way things were, for me at least the piece has this implication that things aren’t necessarily ending because this child eats words. That maybe it’s just clearing away what needed to be cleared away to get at some truths deeper than language. And it’s a lovely, tender read that you should definitely check out!
“Finnegan” by Meghan MacLean Weir (1000 words)
No Spoilers: Carrie is a social worker overseeing a case of an infant being treated for drug addiction, and it’s a situation that moves her to want to do something drastic. The piece in many ways is spent in anticipation, waiting for the moment of action that will move Carrie across a line. It’s a line of conscience in many ways, but the story does a great job of approaching this situation in a complex and compassionate manner. It reveals Carrie’s desires as on one hand very understandable, and on the other rather monstrous. It’s challenging, difficult, and rather wonderfully woven together.
Keywords: CW- Pregnancy/Child Birth, Hospitals, Social Work, Parenting, Theft
Review: I like how the story has Carrie in this moment of crisis, wanting to take this child that she comes across in her work, that she feels in many ways that she has to save. She’s a social worker, seemingly working with the child’s mother, who is going through a rough patch for sure, dealing with court and a child who needs to be weaned off of morphine. I think the story does a good job of getting into Carrie’s thinking, of showing how much she wants to see the worst in the mother, because she wants to be the one to save this child, because she seems to just want a child. And so she makes the situation into one where she would be doing good by stealing a child, evoking for me at least some of the myths around the fae and taking children (might be the name Finnegan there). And for me it really makes this situation where Carrie is doing a job that is terribly difficult and trying to cope with it while nearing this line, this point of no return. For her, taking the child seems like it only makes sense, that it’s her moral duty. But there is a darkness there, a hunger and a monstrosity that comes with her desire to see this child taken from their mother. The story doesn’t flinch from that, either, doesn’t provide for an easy choice. Indeed, it complicates what Carrie thinks is going on, showing that this mother is not the monster that Carrie would have her be. That she might have messed up a bit, but that doesn’t mean she should be punished with the loss of her child. I mean, I would have been interested to see what might have happened had the mother not been as much of a natural talent when it comes to being a mother, where maybe even she didn’t want to be a mother, and where that would have left Carrie, but I do think the piece does a great job of complicating the moral situation and putting readers on this razor-thin edge, where they must confront their own feelings as well, and how much they want Carrie to succeed in her plan, or be caught, or what. It’s a lovely piece, difficult but with a great payoff, and it’s a wonderful read!
“Things That Could Go Wrong in Idaho” by Kaely Horton (996 words)
No Spoilers: Deb is on a road trip with her two kids, Linnea and Nathan. Recently, though, Linnea has become rather anxious, fixated on all the ways that things can go wrong. The way things can fall apart. The way that death might approach on swift wings. It’s not exactly an endearing trait, but it also points to a deeper issue, and the story finds Deb and Linnea confronting this thing that has fallen over them. This fear. It’s a story about how we treat children, and what happens when they can see through the lies we tell to keep them quiet and complacent. And it’s about confronting the uncertainty and entropy of the world, and the mortality we all try our best to ignore.
Keywords: Trips, Family, Fear, Anxiety, Disasters
Review: I think this story does a wonderful job of showing how much parents sort of depend on their children being easily lied to. Not necessarily in a malicious way, but in a way that means that children don’t necessarily have filters or perspective, so it’s hard to handle the ways they get under your armor, shattering the rationalizations that keep you going out in the world. Here Linnea is anxious, terrified of the world because of all the things that could go wrong, and no amount of telling her they won’t happen really works. Which is such a thing, because no amount of promises from a parent will actually prevent something awful from happening if it’s going to happen. It won’t stop a school shooting, won’t stop a car accident, won’t stop a hurricane or flood or blizzard. Won’t keep everyone alive until they reach a ripe old age. Many people die young, and many situations go wrong through things that are no one’s fault exactly. Things that cannot be predicted. Now, most of these things are a bit unreasonable. But they can’t be waved away, and if those things do happen, they are then completely reasonable. It’s a trap that Deb can’t exactly work around, because it points to this huge thing about existing. And really, I like that a child has this trauma, because it seems so real, that one reaction to having something big happen (losing a relative or being in a situation that took away their security) is to just lose your faith that things will Be Okay just because you’re told so. Because for many people things won’t be, and they’re still expected to go through the world as if it will be. It is a parent’s job to deal with this sort of thing, though, not to reassure the child that everything will be okay but to acknowledge that there is no guarantee, but that it doesn’t mean you can’t put aside hyper-vigilance and maybe find ways to embrace a moment without fear. In any event, it’s a wonderfully complicated moment that the story hinges on and I think pulls off quite well, not wrapping everything in a bow but rather leaving things more subtle but still hopeful. It’s a great way to close out the issue!