“One Black Feather” by R. K. Duncan (939 words)
No Spoilers: James and Lyla have been together a while and through enough that when James sees the feather on their bed he knows that it means something bad is probably happening. Because Lyla can grow wings. Wings that can’t fly. Wings that weigh a lot and lead to their share of issues. The piece circles themes of mental health struggles, depression and the place depression puts partners of depressed people. Partners who want to help who whose help can also be harmful, and that’s just a whole big Thing. Truly, it’s a story that takes on a lot and does so carefully, and while I’m not sure that I’m wholly comfortable with where it ends up, I do appreciate what it’s trying to do a lot.
Keywords: Feathers, Wings, Employment, Relationships, CW- Depression
Review: This really is a lovely story and a wrenching one because being the partner of a person with depression can be complicated. Complicated because depression has such an impact on self-worth and energy and all sorts of things, where a depressed person might be doing things to hurt or isolate themselves as a conscious or unconscious punishment and the partner then has to navigate how much to respect that. It’s such a loaded situation, and I do appreciate that the story tries to approach that, even if I’m not sure it really has the space to give that topic the attention it needs. I mean, what there is wrenching and well portrayed, but at the same time the brevity really centers James in a way that plays into a lot of...stuff. Like, okay, that depression is often portrayed as an affliction of mainly women whose pain manifests in poor self-image that parallels societal expectations of women, using the voice of misogyny to essentially reinforce the depression, is something that’s very real and does play into how a lot of people are depressed. The story does a nice job of making James aware of the incredibly complicated place he’s in, and he’s trying so much to just do good by the person he loves, which is great to see. And the piece recognizes that things like therapy and medication come with a lot of baggage and aren’t accessible for everyone, which makes everything messier. That the story is about James, though, and how Lyla’s depression/wings effect him, and what his powers are in all of this, makes me pull back slightly. Not because it’s done poorly but just because I have my own baggage with all of that and the issue is still being couched as largely just Lyla’s thing, when really the issue is likely their debts and lack of security, something James too is likely effected by and in part coping with by concentrating on care giving. I mean, the piece speaks to me as very real, and I do like it, but at the same time there is a feeling of...incompleteness for me that I think it coming from the brevity of the story. There’s just so much to unpack, and in presenting this glimpse I think there’s a risk of oversimplifying and playing into some tropes that I’m uncomfortable with. Still, I think it’s a beautiful read and very much worth checking out!
“Secret Keepers” by Dafydd McKimm (790 words)
No Spoilers: The narrator of this piece and their partner, Jo, are going through something of a rough patch. Or, rather, the energy and passion seems to have gone out of the relationship, but they’re staying silent about it, the loss expressed primarily in silences. But the narrator has brought home a bag of rocks, rocks that they suspect are full of secrets that people have whispered into them over the years. It’s a little foolish, perhaps, to try and gouge mouths in the rocks to allow them to talk, and it’s possible that they don’t even expect it to work. What does happen, though, is a little bit magical, and it might just be enough to inspire further change as well. The story is heavy and touched with a light speculative element that brings a bit of hope into an increasingly difficult situation.
Keywords: Rocks, Secrets, Relationships, Communications
Review: I like the different ways this story works around the idea of secrets. That there are these things that people can only tell stones, because the stones will never reveal what’s been said. Because a stone is safe, in that way at least. And some secrets seem so unsafe, so dangerous, so shattering. I love how the story reveals the secrets that the narrator and their partner are keeping, the issues that they’re both having but can’t quite seem to say because it might end poorly. Despite the fact that both of them need a change. But change is frightening, and what if they need different things? What if their relationship ends? Will all the time they spent together have been a waste, then? Certainly both are letting fear keep them fairly unhappy, neither of them able to ask for the things they need. And the act of cracking open the rocks is a sort of manifestation of the narrator’s desire to crack open the silence in their own relationship, or at least that’s how it reads to me. And I like how the story doesn’t really say how that goes, doesn’t necessarily imply that the couple is going to stay together. I think there’s a pressure to show that as being the “correct” outcome from these sorts of things, but I find it much more realistic that the story recognizes that this might be an ending, that what is said here might well mean that these people won’t be together any more. There’s maybe the hope they can “work it out” but perhaps more apt would be to say that one hopes that they find ways to get what they need, and that they can do that and still find happiness with each other. It’s a lovely and moving story about secrets, about silence and the brave and necessary act of breaking the silence. A wonderful read!
“Six Dreams About the Train” by Maria Haskins (983 words)
No Spoilers: This story unfolds from a first person perspective speaking directly to a second person You. The two seem to be related, though what exactly their relationship is isn’t ever explicitly mentioned. For my money, the narrator is the parent of the You character, but there are other possibilities. The piece centers a series of dreams that revolve around the You character and a train, the two of those plus the narrator making a cast in plots that lean toward tragedy. That speak of loss. The ending is hauntingly open, the reality of the situation muddled by the fog of dream, grief, fear, and pain.
Keywords: Trains, Dreams, Family(?), CW- Loss of a Child(?), CW- Train Collisions
Review: This is a beautifully haunting story, one that finds in dreams a manifestation of a fear, or the lingering touch of trauma. Or both. The narrator speaks to a second person who they love, but who seems distant. A person that always seems riding ahead, or lost on the other side of sleep. In each of the dreams there is a train, as well, and it builds up this idea that something Has Happened. Not in the dreams but in the waking world. To me, it speaks to a great loss, the You character dead, hit by a train, and the narrator dealing with the aftermath, with their own mute pain, their sleeping mind bringing them back again and again to that moment. Imagining ways to avoid it, ways to reframe it, ways to capture it, ways to transform it. The dreams are different but there is a separation that runs through them all, a sort of regret that the narrator seems to feel. A fear. A hope. That maybe what happened was just a dream, because maybe it still doesn’t feel fully real, that it’s something the narrator will be able to just wake up from. Only for me the lingering implication is that it’s not. And in that reading of the story there’s such a pain that’s going on, such a layered trauma, that it’s really a gutting experience. Heartbreaking in the ways the narrator wants to undo what has happened, wants to prevent the tragedy that has already occurred. For me, at least, the work shows the deep impact of what has happened, a parent who has lost a child, who wants to have been able to do something, but can’t. And the powerlessness and the pain manifest in dreams, bringing them back again and again to this wound that can’t close. That is too profound for that. And the ending is beautiful and powerful and devastating, the narrator left wishing things were different, knowing they’re not. A powerful way to close out the issue!