|Art by Cindy Fan
“The Future in Saltwater” by Tamara Jerée (4675 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this story is given their own God, an octopus that represents a small part of the now-polluted Ocean. The God gives them a name as well as a task, something that’s supposed to begin their service to the God, that’s supposed to usher them into adulthood. The task given, though, would require the narrator to leave their parent alone for an extended period, something that might well kill the parent, given their limitations and vulnerabilities. The refusal of the God carries some unforeseen ramifications, though, and the narrator quickly finds themself in a precarious and dangerous situation, all the while balancing their duty to their city and people with their duty to their parent.
Keywords: Octopuses, Oceans, Gods, Non-binary MC, Family, Rituals
Review: The world build here is fascinating, a world that seems post-disaster, where the ocean has been polluted, where everyone else has found ways to keep going with a mix of technology and an older religion that is based along a kinship, a partnership with the Ocean. The narrator is a part of that, but also in a rather fragile state, their parent chronically ill and unable to work in the same ways as others. They are making it, but it’s not easy, and the narrator needs to perform well if they can expect to help their parent and be able to reach for something like security. Instead their situation goes from bad to worse when their hesitance about leaving their parent behind unguarded or aided leads to their God basically dying, which in turn leads to some deeper mysteries of their faith and a sacrifice they have to make. It’s a bit strange and rather harsh, the world one of wounds, reflected in turn in the wounds within the narrator’s family, a sibling left and mostly estranged now. And for all that the ending is in many ways hopeful, I feel that its telling how the narrator themself is a sacrifice for a better world. They’ve made themself into a tool to try and buy a better life for their parent, and in doing so they’ve lost some of themself. And there’s a bit of tragedy that I feel there, necessitated by the setting, by the broken world and desolate sea. And they give, because it’s what they always wanted to do, hoping it will be enough, hoping it will buy others a better world, knowing that for them that’s likely not a future they’ll be able to enjoy in the same way. It’s a story that shows that mentality so well, the shape that hope and strength can take when conditions make them seem impossible. A great read!
“With Tooth and Sound” by Emmalia Harrington (4425 words)
No Spoilers: Edith is a free deaf black woman living in colonial America with her partner, Marja. Edith distills scents, perfumes and tinctures for various ailments and conditions. Marja is more of a general force of nature, rendering medical assistance and helping people in the black community however she can. Edith is able to process some sound with the help of a dentaphone, but it’s far from perfect, and perhaps more difficult to deal with is that she must constantly deal with Marja running off into danger while she stays at home, trapped in wondering if Marja is safe or not. Complicating matters is that Marja has brought a guest home, a young girl who faces a very difficult situation. And Edith has to figure out how to deal with this latest intrusion, as well as her old warring feeling. It’s a story touching on the difficulty of waiting, the strength that often goes overlooked and under-reported.
Keywords: Scents, History/Historical, Deaf MC, Queer MC
Review: I love how the story captures Edith, a woman who has no great patience for fools, who knows all too well what it means to be vulnerable, inhabited such a complex intersection of disability, race, and sexuality. And she makes it work...mostly, except that she falls apart a bit whenever Marja is away, whenever she might be dead or in jail or anything like that. Every night that Marja is unaccounted for, when she’s putting her life on the line for other people...it takes its toll on Edith, who wants some sort of security even as she knows that it’s mostly an illusion. And to have another person thrust into her life at this point isn’t (at first, at least) helpful, and I love how that works, that in the beginning it’s too much because she doesn’t want to have to deal with the ways that people don’t know how to navigate her hearing and her routine. She does so much, stays so busy, and yet a lot of it might be nervous energy, an inability to settle as long as Marja isn’t around. And that seems to compound when she feels she’s done something to let Marja down, including forgetting how to be a host, how to relate to other people who are strangers, who haven’t earned her trust. And yet for me the piece is about the connection that Edith makes with this guest, Beth, and how it helps both of them cope with the uncertainties in their lives, the danger they know is always lurking, not just for themselves but for their loved ones, who at any time might disappear, all propped up by the government, by a place that doesn’t really consider them fully people. For me at least, the piece wraps up so beautifully around that final sentiment, the way the two women, Marja and Beth, meet the ways they have to wait, they have to trust even when trusting leaves them open for a great deal of hurt, because there’s no other choice. And it’s a wonderful read!
“Pieces of Me” by Jessica Jo Horowitz
This piece speaks to me of vulnerability and exploitation, the ways that people are broken apart by expectations, by the societal narratives that reduce people and reduce people down to their lowest common denominators, often along racial (and racist) stereotypes. The narrator of the piece is speaking to or toward someone who used them, someone they loved or thought they loved, who proceeded to break them down. Who turned to sell parts of them as if this you had the right, as if you owned the narrator and could offer up all their parts to be consumed. And for me the piece speaks to the hunger that so many have for just that kind of consumption, how eager people are to devour the cliches and caricatures, especially when there’s the whiff of authenticity. You seem to be entirely aware of that, are offering up these bits of the narrator because they reinforce the very toxic sentiments and structures in society. The narrator is a shield and a resource both that lends you legitimacy, that allows you to profit off of their loss and their silence, all because they made the mistake of giving you their heart. The poem does such a sharp job of showing this rendering, your work of butchery, really, nodding toward the racist language that people use to describe features like eye shape and skin, constantly evoking food and pointedly using the work “exotic” because those are the terms that’s how dominant (largely white) audiences want to think of other people. How they want to maintain their othering of people of color by making everything about them consumable. And the narrator is caught by that, used and discarded, blanched and bleached until only their heart and bones remain, and yet that doesn’t mean that they’re dead. Because their heart remains, the discarded part they had wanted to give away. And I love that the heart was the part they were trying to give, because that’s the part they wanted consumed, so that someone would be able to taste it and experience something deeper. Who would know them more than at a shallow, fetishized level. Who would share then their own taste, a sharing that is about expression and true identity and not just the things dominant cultures insist are the identifying markers of a person. A fantastic read!