|Art by denissimonov
The two original stories in the May The Dark Magazine have some pretty heavy content warnings to them (perhaps to be expected given the publication). They both also find women dealing with abusive relationships and having to navigate their own shame and feelings of culpability for their pain and harassment, their oppression and fear. The situations they find themselves in are wrenching, dangerous, and dehumanizing, and the women are left having to make some impossible decisions. Accept the course that the men around them have laid out, even when it contains their own annihilation...or stand against them, and take whatever power is possible to smash the walls threatening to box them in. It’s not an easy month of stories, but it’s some moving and powerful horror. To the reviews!
“Sleeping in Metal and Bone” by Kristi DeMeester (6010 words)
No Spoilers: Rilla is a woman who’s been trying to have a child with her husband, Henry, for years now. But after a number of miscarriages, things aren’t exactly as hopeful as they once were. She’s feeling alienated from Henry, who approaches the matter like a business transaction, and has been having dreams where she has hooks that extend from her fingertips. And while awake she’s finding new hungers--an insatiability for meat, the redder the better. The piece follows her as these changes develop and their source becomes clear, and as the relationship between Rilla and Henry is further exposed. It’s viscerally dark, intensely uncomfortable, but for those who can handle the content, a sharp take on the ways that expectation and pressure can change a person.
Keywords: Meat, Hooks, CW- Pregnancy/Miscarriage/Ultrasounds, Marriage, Hunger, CW- Self Harm
Review: This is not an easy story to get through, in part because it deals with very intimate and very devastating hurts, Rilla’s multiple miscarriages and the deteriorating relationship she has with Henry, the way that she’s policed, her body no longer really her own but rather a potential home for a fetus. Her routine is dictated by Henry’s understanding of how pregnancy works, and that’s...not ideal at all. I love the small ways the story shows how this abuse is happening and how Henry is obsessed with control, the way that he’s blamed Rilla for the other miscarriages and so has determined that this one is _his_ in a way that is uncomfortable and rather terrifying. Terrifying because in many ways the world excuses his behavior, gaslights Rilla about how invasive and abusive it is. He’s just concerned. He’s just trying to be helpful. Rilla decided she wanted children, after all, and in so doing feels that she’s consented to everything that’s come next despite not doing that at all. And now she’s got this hunger, her whole being transformed by this desire to get pregnant, one that is now traumatic because of the times she’s thought it would work and it didn’t. For me the piece points to how this process has in many ways made her feel disconnected from her body, has made the entire ordeal seem monstrous, and her be extension, that something must be wrong with her, every doubt and negative thought poisoning her, creating this space inside her that is only hunger, that craves only meat and blood. Because she’s had to bite back so much, because she’s not allowed to acknowledge the cost this all has had on her. And so she embraces the monster, using at least to be powerful, to fight back, to break free from the stifling confines that Henry has set for her, the ending a bloody triumph even as the implications are grim indeed. It’s a stunning read, and certainly worth spending some time with, though definitely be aware of the content!
“Driving With Ghosts” by Clara Madrigano (6048 words)
No Spoilers: The first time Marina saw a ghost was after a party after her senior year in high school, when she decided to drive home drunk. It’s an event that has stuck with her, echoing a past abuse that she was too young to really understand at the time. Now 26, Marina is home again for circumstances that once more echo back to that early abuse, and she must face the reality of what’s been happening to her, and what her options are for going forward. It’s a haunting story, one that shows the vulnerability of a Latinx woman when trying to leave a white ex-boyfriend, and the strength she might find with family and with a growing anger at the pains she’s endured.
Keywords: Cars, CW- Abuse, CW- Sexual Assault, Ghosts, Family, CW- Stalking
Review: This story links nicely with the last, with the abuse that the narrators face. For Marina, it comes in the past from her grandfather, the figure who seems to be haunting her, and in the present from her ex-boyfriend who is stalking her, who is escalating in his attempts to “win her back” and who Marina can tell is going to hurt her more and more until either he’s stopped or she’s dead. And it’s a visceral reality to live with, one clogged by not only fear but shame, because she doesn’t want to be that woman, that cliche almost, the person who couldn’t tell that she was dating a man capable of this. Who doesn’t know how to handle the various ways she’s been victimized, since she was too young to realize what that meant. And who certainly doesn’t know how to really talk about things that seem like they can’t be spoken of, that she feels complicit in because she didn’t immediately shout about them. But the story is careful I feel in how it deals with that, never condemning Marina because of how she handles her abuse, knowing that it’s not a “failure” to report so much as a mess of emotions and guilts and the societal realities that some people can’t expect protection from authority. Marina is able to talk to her mother, though, and I like that through that, through connecting with her mom, she’s able to tap into a strength to act, to defy, to be proactive about her protection. And it allows her to move out of being passive about her abuse and instead make her boundaries very clear...with a hockey stick. And okay, the ending is bloody and it is satisfying, though in the back of my head I worry because of how the double standards work, that this is not something she’ll just “get away with” and likely will be disproportionately punished for. But I think that’s part of the freedom it represents, that Marina has always thought about that, and that was already being used as a weapon against her. And now she’s taken that away, and is standing, whatever comes next, asserting her right to be safe. And it’s a powerful moment, and one that marks a stunning ending to a great read!