|Art by Dario Bijelac|
“Brujitas” by Shara Concepción (967 words)
This story does a great job of marrying a weird, dreamlike aesthetic and a feeling of overcoming a seemingly impassable barrier. The story unfolds around a group of young people who spend their days in the shadow of a great fence, one that obscures everything beyond it. It’s a fence that seems in part mythic, the kids’ grandmothers believing in the goodness of the fence and the eternity of it. There’s an almost nostalgic mysticism that runs throughout as well, a magic that seems almost tired, worn thin. The job of the children is to wake it up, to reinvigorate it. I rarely use comparison when talking about stories but I hope I might be excused to say that it reminds me a bit of Bradbury, the way that the magic comes into these kids’ lives and sweeps them away, and they find a way through it to escape the stark blandness of their lives. I love how their time is spent in seeking out something new and exciting. They gather up small rocks and bits of glass. They huddle around an injured bird. They wait near an old brujas house at least in part (it feels to me) in order to be close to something, anything magical, even if its someone who no longer conjures or does magic. And ultimately the story shows that magic isn’t exactly something to be found. Or, at least, that it’s not something that’s going to be found by standing still. Instead, magic is something that is created by the desire and the search for it, the children able to find it only when they put away their hesitation and entrenched fear about doing what hasn’t been done. It’s an interested and nicely balanced story that moves as a dream might, weaving together a series of images into something whole and complete, a map to someplace other, to a world over the fence and beyond. It’s a fine read and a great way to kick off the issue!
“Elsewhere” by Meera Jhala (1007 words)
This is a story about sacrifice, and about the dream of a better life. This is about the ways that parents try to protect their children, to do right by them, but sometimes wonder if they’ve done right by themselves. This is the story of Mrs. Bhatia, a woman who from a young age is told that she needs to save to move her family away from Earth, to a new planet that’s still clean, where people don’t have to wear respirators all the time, where the water and air are clean. It’s not an easy prospect, but when her son is ten there’s enough money to send him away, with the hope that she and her husband will follow later. And the story is a portrait of what happens in there impossible situations, where parents must make decisions that they hope are right, that they hope will be worth it, and yet can’t be sure. And especially can’t be sure when parts of their plan fall through. When tragedy still happens. When that golden dream of the future arrives but not fully, not the way that was really intended. And I love that the story can’t quite answer whether Mrs. Bhatia made the right decision, that for adults and especially older adults there is no comfort to be had, really, from some other person assuring them that all is well, that they did the best they could, that it will be all right. The story acknowledges that sometimes things won’t be all right, and that even if you never make a mistake, even if you always make the “right” decision, time and circumstance and make mockery of your choices. They can twist them into “wrong” decisions or at least “not-so-good” decisions and that hurts. That eats away at a person. For Mrs. Bhatia, it’s a lesson that she doesn’t take much solace from, because of how she learned it, and the story does a wrenching job of showing her in this moment, at the end, of being caught between her desire to salvage something from this situation and her despair that she’s lost the beauty of her dream, which was the thing getting her through the hardships she faced. It’s a great read!
“Errata to The Fugue of the Undreamable Abyss” by Aimee Picchi (841 words)
This story speaks to me of darkness and longing, loss and music, obsession and grief. The story focuses on Petra, who has lost their partner, Abed. The story has a decidedly otherworldly flare, where Petra has become fascinated with the Abyss, which is something that Abed had found, something that he had been trying to contact, trying to bridge the gap toward. In some ways to me the act of Abed courting the Abyss is a way the story and Petra conceptualize his terminal illness and his artistic gifts. He is in pain for a long time, and the Abyss becomes more and more tempting as time goes on. For Petra, who is with him throughout, who is trying to find ways to first find a cure and then to comfort him, the Abyss was something to be afraid of, even something to be jealous of, the way that Abed begged for it and not for Petra. And the way this sort of gets into Petra is interesting, because beneath the magic of the text there is this darkness that comes out of the grief that they feel for the loss of Abed. For this part of themself that is gone. [SPOILERS] And so they try to create some music that will do what Abed did, and call the Abyss, because it might allow Petra to get close to Abed again. As a stage of grief, this isn’t exactly healthy behavior, landing squarely in the bargaining stage, but then calling grief healthy or unhealthy is really fucking fraught. Petra has lost and those around them are saying that they will get over this, that they will heal, but Petra has no real intention of doing so. I see parallels between Abed and Petra here, both of them becoming more and more focused and fixated on the Abyss, on this darkness that seems always just outside. They want to let it in and be together and there’s something beautiful about that, especially in the lush and flowing prose of the story, even as there’s something rather fucked up about it, too. The story expresses this draw to the dark, toward annihilation and dissolution in the face of loss, not as solely a destructive and negative force, but rather as something that can also allow people to merge and get beyond the flesh into something different. It’s a haunting and deep read and you should definitely check it out!