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Memento Spirare

The apparitions staying at Caritas House never remembered who they were, where they came from, or how they arrived. At least, not at first — and after they did, they vanished. Many had been guests so long they denied having been anywhere else and locked themselves in their rooms. Those were the souls, Jane 808 realized, who had stopped seeing angels.

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The only thing you can count on in life is that in the end, you’ll be alone. Even all those people who died in an instant, in the inferno under the planes, in the cloud of debris during that moment when gravity blinked – they were alone, were standing next to other people who were alone, shaking their hands, maybe, or about to tell them that their left shoelace is untied. Because to die means something different to everyone.

You will sit on the curb among the half-fallen buildings and watch the glassless doorframe of the Q Street Kwik-Mart swing open, closed, open, closed and an empty bag of Santitas Tortilla Triangles – “Auténtico estilo Mexicano” – scootch down the gutter twenty yards away. Of course, you can’t read the bag from that distance, but you’ll know that’s what it says because you’ve been watching it for almost an hour now, dragged like a corpse through the gutter away from your hand, from which it will have fallen as you reached in for the last chip.

What kind of a bomb blows up only living things?

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Days of Darkness

The unmoving sun illuminated my exposed body as it stung the top layer of my skin.  The intensity of the light prevented my eyes from opening, and I had to squeeze them shut to elude the burning sensation.  When I went to roll onto my stomach, my body remained motionless.  The grass that lay beneath me began to prick my bare skin as I tried desperately to itch, but couldn’t move.  It felt like hours that I allowed the blistering sun to control my wasted body.  Every inch of my being was tingling, allowing my body to project the light that filled me.

Overcome with the desire to stretch out my arms, my body began to tremble.  I needed to feel something real, something or someone to share this moment of light with.  My chest felt heavy, and my breath shortened.  I so badly wanted to enjoy that moment of the sun, pouring its everlasting bit of heat and light upon my defenseless body, but something was pulling me away.  Suddenly the heat escaped me and I was no longer surrounded by light.  The darkness had somehow crept in and enthralled my soul with its emptiness.

***

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To Matthew

You died on a Sunday. Divine Mercy Sunday. A day of divine forgiveness. It was a heavenly day, too. You know, one of those days where all you taste is sun and green and salvation. Everything is rising again. You can see the grass genuflecting to the sky on the hills where cows used to bow when there was still a dairy farm. You can almost hear the flowers burst from their stems in glory from beneath the magnolias, and the birds don’t seem to know how to stop singing their praises. For once, the rain had ceased to fall up. It was not a day for death.

You killed yourself. At least that’s what they told me.

In a sick way I want to know how you did it. Was it a rope? A knife? A razor? A pillowcase? Did you suffer? Was there blood? Was there a note? I never heard if there was. Not like I’d want to know exactly why you did it. I think I can guess. Why else except depression; feeling like a cornered animal who can’t fight back, who can’t escape? Why else except knowing life is a hell you can only die to escape from? Did you beg for salvation when you saw the end? Or were you grateful?

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Just Breaking the Surface

Just Breaking the Surface

Norma wiped the kitchen counters clean from the mess she had made cooking baked ziti for dinner. The big house was too silent for her with her son confined to his room for the night after the argument they had just had. The motel needed work and she couldn’t do it alone. Before he became entranced by a girl’s charm, Norman had to stay focused on the family for a few moments longer to help her get the motel running for business. Norma knew there was no room for a girl in his life, except Norma herself. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so aggressive towards him in their argument.

She called up the stairwell to Norman. Her calls were returned with silence. He was just angry and would get over it shortly to help her finish cleaning up. There was no use in waiting on him to come out of his sullen state. She ran the hot water to wash the dishes. A metal clanking sounded from a distance, and for a second, Norma couldn’t determine if it was on the back porch or if it was the last of the dishes settling in the sink. She took a step towards the back porch and there was Keith Summers’ face in the window of the door. Keith smashed the window open with his bare fist to unlock the door. The first thing she could grab was the dirty kitchen knife she had yet to wash as she screamed in pure horror.

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De Wolf

He stretched out beside me. Touched my face lightly and licked his lips. I groaned and pushed him away. Four o’clock in the morning is no time to wake me. I was in the best part of my dream. The prince I had been seeing for the past four nights was finally coming closer. I could just make out the deep magenta sparkle of his eyes.  It was like looking at the storms through my purple reflective vase on the windowsill, the flowers are wilted and had been dead for months now. It is a shame that I just don’t have the energy to even replace the old with the new. I used to keep fresh flowers on that windowsill. I kicked out my last live in boyfriend two weeks ago because he was cheating on me with four different women. That’s the third man this year and the first to live with me. Pathetic.

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Permission

“He came back into camp again last night,” I said to Dr. Michel as we sat in the supply tent, counting the hypodermic needles and brushing the ants off our legs if they began a scurrying ascent.  The din of the songbirds in the canopy of treetops outside made it necessary that I raise my voice just to be heard, but we’d been living in the valley for more than 8 months now and had all gotten pretty adapt at reading lips. When we first set up base camp, we assumed that the birds were mating and would quiet once they were done. We were wrong.

“I know, Amy. I still don’t believe that he’s as serious a threat as you make him out to be,” replied Dr. Michel. We call him Doc for short, mostly because it’s weird trying to pronounce “Micheal” without an “a”. He’s about 6’2” with a shock of black hair, though it’s starting to show flecks of gray. I teased him once about it, saying that, in the villages, the ladies might like a silver fox. He wasn’t amused.

I looked over my left shoulder at the back wall of the tent and could see the contrast of the Red Cross on the other side, significant against the setting sun.

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The Singing Bird

 

        A siren stares back at me through midnight water. Her sun darkened complexion is slashed with a bright blend of tangerine and crimson from the last slowly sinking rays of daylight. It filters through her pale blue eyes, giving them an iridescent glow, beckoning me to lean further over the flooded, wooden deck of the Danu. I lie flat on my stomach and stare at her rippling hair as it dances all around her like carnelian seaweed. We only have a few more minutes before she disappears and I am left with the spray of salt water. Sometimes I am tempted to follow her back into the wine-dark water of the Mediterranean, down into the murky underworld swaying beneath me. Sometimes I think if only I’d had more time, if only I could’ve held my breath forever, maybe it would be my father humming along to “My Singing Bird” instead of her. The Captain’s voice overpowers everyone’s and I guess it makes sense that his voice is a lot like my father’s. I can hear the same sturdiness, the same sadness, as he sings,

If I could lure my singing bird

From his own cozy nest

If I could catch my singing bird

I would warm him on my breast.

For there’s none of them can sing so sweet

My singing bird as you.

      But I remember how my father’s voice had warmed the air around us, crackling like fire in the dark. It was the deep roll of thunder and the gentle slap of saltwater against the hull of the ship. It contained all I had ever known of family and trust and home.

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The Golden Hour

I push past the door—there’s no point in lingering to read the note she’s left me pinned there above a sprig of rosemary. I know what it says. I know that she doesn’t want to see me, that it’s too soon and she’s too fragile to handle the stress of it all. Still, I burst into the bedroom and find her, curled up under a mass of wrinkled white bedsheets, the golden light of the early morning sun streaming over her bare shoulder. She doesn’t look up. I sit down alongside her, not wrinkling the sheet or leaving a depression in the mattress, though I can feel the warmth of her skin through the sheets and smell the blueberry-scented lotion she always applies before she goes to sleep. I reach over to brush the bare golden skin with the tips of my fingers, but before I can, a tingling spreads up from my hands through my limbs and I can feel my muscles begin to seize up.

Not yet.
I clench my teeth and fight to move my stiffening body, but to no avail. As I relax back into my stationary pose, I see the world begin to fade back into the swirling blackness that I now notice has been accumulating at the edge of my vision. The light from the window reduces and narrows into one faint golden beam that flickers and blinks and then disappears, leaving me in the dark.

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Revision: The Painting

I came to life with the first stroke of your paintbrush; it felt light and feathery over my forehead. When you created me all my senses except my vision awoke. I do not know by what magic I was brought to life, or how I knew this place was just a hovel in the great Italian city of Rome. I even knew the year 1516. I let my senses explore the room. I could smell turpentine and paint, feel its thickness spread across my forehead, my cheeks, my lips, my nose. You waited to paint my eyes so that I remain blind to you. Like so many faithful followers of God ever waiting for death to lay eyes on their Lord, so I too wait. I long to see you, but remain content with listening to the sound of your voice; it vibrates my canvas and sends waves of unknown feelings through my painted torso. I hear you talk to people; I hear you curse or bless those who purchase your other works. I am glad I am not finished. I hope you take forever, so I may have forever with you. I cannot help the feelings I have. They fill me up so fully it hurts. I want to cry out to you, shout your name or kiss you. I need release from this torment. Continue Reading »

Paper Cranes

I grew up folding paper cranes. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer around the time I turned seven and she quickly picked up the art of origami. She had been hoping there was some truth to the Japanese myth about folding 1,000 paper cranes, where the person who folds them gets one of her wishes granted. Even if it didn’t work, it at least gave her something to do to pass the time during her stays in the hospital. Before her wellness spree began she let me fold paper into basic figures like cootie catchers and carefree cats. It wasn’t long until I was folding cranes alongside her. Continue Reading »

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Famine: Revised

He was handsome.

It was a very subtle thing, yet his symmetrical features shyly peaked through the dingy and threadbare beard that clung to his face in wisps of what could only be described as chestnut strands. The hat didn’t aid his appearance. Its pale blue bill, the generic color they use on children’s blankets, casts shadows over his forehead, creating the illusion of pockmarked skin. Or perhaps that was real.

It didn’t matter, she decided. He was still handsome.

She sat at a table covered in vinyl in the only diner this side of the South Dakota Badlands.  The food was awful. The company was transitory.

She liked it that way.

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The experience of tactile recreation was interesting but its deeper meaning was lost on me. It took me two readings to understand that the Wizard was the saboteur of the project. I felt lost while reading this story. I could not wrap my head around what the environment looked like and the placement of people; it seemed to change a lot in the story. For example the main character talks about all the rooms this undefined building had, yet he is in a cubical with many other people. I did not understand his role for the wizard, he seemed to be a Gofer (go for this, go for that.) I really did not like this last story and I am disappointed. Millhauser has such a large imagination. His works seem to span time and space yet keep you well grounded to the earth, and you want to believe him. I felt lost with this story and wished I could have understood it better. Perhaps I need the haptograph?

To Make Us Creepy.

It was Helen who also discovered what the new bathtub could do. It started as an accident.

The beginning of “to make us whole” by Amber Sparks was a childhood dream come true, even when the Mother dashed the children’s plans of using the bathtub for their own personal gain. The imagery was completely mesmerizing even though it was slight. I could picture myself there.  I was looking forward to the lace dress that magically appeared and what else the children could think of but then Sparks took a complete twist into the fantastically creepy.

We watched as the bathtub people unfold themselves and they watched us right back, dripping and smiling. Robert was one of them. Mother’s throat made a tea kettle sound when she saw him. He just stood there still and strange, his eyes black instead of green, like he didn’t know Mother or any of us at all.

“Well I’m never sleeping again…”

“Bathtub people?!” At that point I couldn’t stop reading and really didn’t want the story to end so quickly, but I am kind of glad it did. The ending was just that cliff hanger that keeps you awake at night wondering what happened.

Hello, we said to ourselves.

Hello, said ourselves to us.

These two lines gave me goosebumps. I am always highly impressed when I can read four pages of paper and it is a legitimate story staring back at me.

This semester I’ve been learning not only how to write, but how to live. Sure, there have been a lot of great metaphors, similes, and stories that exemplify what I wish I could write. Millhauser has a way with endings, which are the most infuriating portion of any story I’ve ever attempted to write. Johnson has a way with playing with my heartstrings. I only wish I could move my readers to make them feel as much as she does to me. Chateaureynaud created magic so seamlessly I can only hope one day I create something that believable. Gracia Marquez gave such a perfect example of creating characters and magic that was ordinary, that reading his work over and over again could only do me good. Not only did these authors teach me important aspects of the craft of writing a story, but they also taught me about life.

Nice and not nice have nothing to do with love. (Johnson, “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”)

I love and hate this bridge of yours. I will pine for the mist, for the need to cross it. But I do not want to be part of a family that all die young without even a corpse for the burning. If I have a child she will not need to make the decision I did: to cross the mist and die, or to stay safe on one side of the world and never see the other. She will lose something. She will gain something else. (Johnson, “The Man Who Bridged the Mist”)

Here’s the trick to the bathtub trick. There is no trick. The monkeys pour across the stage and up the ladder and into the bathtub and they settle in and then they vanish. The world is full of strange things, things that make no sense, and maybe this is one of them. Maybe the monkeys choose not to share, that’s cool, who can blame them. (Johnson, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”)

“You’re always asking why they go.” … “See, I don’t think we’re ever going to find out what happens. But I don’t think that’s the real question anyway. Maybe the question is, why do they come back?” (Johnson, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”)

Nothing is certain. You can lose everything. Eventually, even at your luckiest, you will die and then you will lose it all.(Johnson, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”)

“Because there’s always a reason for everything, isn’t there? Because if there isn’t a reason for even one thing, like how you can get sick, or your husband stop loving you, or people you love die – then there’s no reason for anything. So there must be reasons. (Johnson, “26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss”)

“Love makes a world without the one we love a wasteland!”… “It is not love, but I,” she said gravely, “who will make the world a wasteland for you.” (Chateaureynaud, “The Beautiful Coalwoman”)

Dora was dead. He wondered if he was dead, too. Were you ever sure? You lived step by step. What makes us think we’re alive and nothing’s happened is continuity. But as soon as that was shattered, you knew nothing, you could very well be dead and keep right on going same as ever for a while, like a ball dropped down a flight of stairs. It might bounce from step to step, but finally it was bound to stop.” (Chateaureynaud, “Sweet Street”)

And you’re still waiting, Elena – even now. Even now you’re waiting for the explanation, the apology, the words that will justify you and set you free. But underneath that waiting is another waiting: you are waiting for me to return to the old way. Isn’t it true? Listen, Elena. It’s much too late for that. In my silent world, my world of exhausting wonders, there’s no place for the old words with which I deceived myself, in my artificial garden. I had thought that words were instruments of precision. Now I know that they devour the world, leaving nothing in its place. (Millhauser, “History of a Disturbance”)

By trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her. (Gracia Marquez, OHYOS)
 
“What did you expect?” he murmured. “Time Passes.”
“That’s how it goes,” Ursula said, “but not so much.” (Gracia Marquez, OHYOS)
 
She did not have to see him to know he was there, because the butterflies were always there. (Gracia Marquez, OHYOS)
 
It was as if God had decided to put to the test every capacity for surprise and was keeping the inhabitants of Macondo in a permanent alternation between excitement and disappointment, doubt and revelation, to such an extreme that no one knew for certain where the limits of reality lay. (Gracia Marquez, OHYOS)
 

The Wizard

Mimicry and invention. Splendor of the haptograph. Not just the replication of familiar tactile sensations, but capacity to explore new combinations–pressures, touches, never experienced before. Adventures of feeling. Who can say what new sensations will be awakened, what unknown desires? Unexplored realms of the tangible. The frontiers of touch (231). 

Millhauser’s story “The Wizard of West Orange” tips its hat to Thomas Edison’s ingenuity, though it focuses more on the things he didn’t make money from than those that he did. The Wizard, Edison, is the commander of a multitude of projects within his “factory” of invention, as described by Millhauser. In this era of invention, everything seemed to be a possibility. You could talk to a friend across town without ever having to leave your parlor. You could record your own voice and play it back to yourself, every inflection caught, every word intoned. Messages fly from wire to wire, dolls speak, photographs move. Almost every sense is accounted for but touch. And this is the sense that defines the invention that is explored here.

Edison, though interested in the haptograph, the machine that creates a sense of touch, spends very little time on the ingenuity of it and is more concerned with the way it will make money. It is the narrator and Kistenmacher who have become intellectually enchanted with this idea and mean to improve upon it. The narrator himself is the one from whom we learn, written in the most poetically scientific way, just what it is that the haptograph does to the skin. This seems to be the fantastic element of the story, but only because this imaginative technology has not been perfected, and seems to pose some existential questions that the narrator and the world cannot answer yet.

Out of all of Millhauser’s stories, this last one is my favorite. The allusion to the fantastic  imagination of Thomas Edison calls upon the idea that all that we find fantastic in the world today may turn out not to be fantastic in the future. Bring a talking doll to 1522 and they’ll burn you as a witch. What would humanity do once given the power to feel without ever touching anything or anyone. “Perfect for Germaphobes!” the slogan might say. But that is only if human beings continue to discover and explore, create and invent. How much more modern can we get? I love the way Millhauser writes and it made this story even more interesting for being based upon real facts, real people, and real inventions. Great ending to a great collection and semester.

I’ve been sorry to keep coming to the ends of this semester’s story collections, especially Dangerous Laughter. Many of Steven Millhauser’s stories deal with the idea of art and the imagination as abstractions by materializing them in various ways, such as a mysterious girl disguised in shadow. The sections of the book titled “Impossible Architectures” and “Heretical Histories” appear to be Millhauser attempting to get the reader on board with out-of-the-box thinking. He imagines what imagination is like and then produces absurdism that stretch the reader’s imagination. So much of the subject matter at the front of the book toys with what art is or what it means to be imaginative, and the later stories demonstrate the possibilities of imagination by creating worlds in which a tower can be built to heaven, glass domes threaten to encapsulate the planet, and children’s paint can become animate. The stories have reminded me that as a writer, I can dream up anything I want and make it convincing. Beginning with the first story in the collection, “Cat n’ Mouse,” it is clear that Millhauser wanted to bend conventional plots and re-capture a playful mindset that many readers have probably forgotten about. Being able to read these tales is like having an instruction manual on re-learning creativity. I loved reading the “Heretical Histories.” Sometimes in class workshop we say something hasn’t been “fully imagined.” Millhauser is an amazing role model for thoroughly considering the effects of the scenarios he creates. His stories consider even the most minute, peculiar results for example, the restlessness created in the citizens of a town when they know that nearby there’s a mirror image of their world, the dead birds damaging glass domes, the inability for people living at one level of a heaven-high tower to travel to lower or levels, or the fervent embrace of formless clothes by women. Dangerous Laughter demonstrates again and again Millhauser’s mastery of the kind of stories we’ve been trying to write all semester: stories that persuade, that engage by stretching the bounds of believability, and stories that explain that the power of the imagination is its ability to make the fantastic real.

 

-Ashley

A Precursor of the Cinema

On the advice of a friend, Crane filed suit; the case was decided against him, but the product was withdrawn after the parents of children with Animate Paint sets discovered that a simple stroke of chrome-yellow or crimson lake suddenly took on a life of its own, streaking across the page and dripping brightly onto eiderdown comforters, English-weave rugs, and polished mahogany tables.

This sentence from Millhauser’s story caught my attention for a number of reasons. I find it funny that parents are concerned about paint crawling up their blankets and walls, but also fantastic because paint cannot climb up walls!!! It stays on the paper it’s placed on! Unless a child uses it elsewhere. The very specific detail of the two colors, the chrome-yellow and crimson lake, also catch my attention because I wonder if it’s only those two colors that can take on a mind of their own. The idea of the two colors then made me think of the blood that snaked its way through the house to Ursula’s feet in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The two scenes are very different though. For starters, this is simply paint. It isn’t blood. Both crawling up walls as if they were alive is creepy, but one idea–the blood– is more loaded than the other–the paint. The greatest comparison that my brain mustered was the reactions. The VERY DIFFERENT reactions. Parents instantly worried when this paint started taking on its own life, taking the paint away from their children, and having the product withdrawn from sales, a very typical parent reaction to something they feel may harm their child. In the scene from Marquez’s story, the blood that flowed from Arcadio’s ear found Ursula in her kitchen and she followed the trail back to the source! Her only written reaction is her saying “Holy Mother of God”, but when she found the source, there is no sense of the way she reacted. It’s strange that she even decided to follow the trail of blood knowing it was blood!

However, I bet the parents of these children instantly backed away from the traveling paint since their first reaction was to have the product removed from stores. Two similar scenes, different flowing liquids, and different reactions. It’s the worlds in which these two scenes were created that gives their different reactions the fantastic element. I feel that it is more effective in Marquez’s story because this world of Macondo goes through so much horror that following a blood trail is just what needs to be done to know the truth, but a trail of blood is nothing too much for these people to handle. That’s how far-fetched things in their world are, we would never follow trails of blood, but they did. Their foreign reaction, foreign to us not themselves, is what shocks us most. Blood is blood, but following it as if it were some sort of trail to buried treasure is too extreme! Millhauser has already created this world where these strange paintings move and he advances the level of weird by selling paints that move like the paints he uses in his still life pieces. What I find truly fantastic about that is the world’s need to have an answer to his work. The public is dying to know how he does it, how he makes his work seem lifelike and these paints are one step closer to figuring out how he does it! What do the people do? They have the paints removed, it was too much for them to handle, the possible truth was too much for them to handle.

In Ursula’s world, it’s just easier to know the truth. In this world of Millhauser’s, if it’s too strange, the truth is better left unknown.

Whole At Last

Father had shot himself in the head after being discovered in Disgrace. We didn’t know what kind of Disgrace, but apparently it was the catching kind because we were all in it, too. We didn’t care what other people thought, but Mother took it hard. She came from a very old family and she was very proud. Helen said it was the Disgrace that was making Mother crazy.

“To Make Us Whole,” by Amber Sparks seems to me to be a story of disbelief. Written the way that it is, from a retrospective point of view calling upon the memories of childhood, this story acts more as a morbidly entertaining fable than an actual account of what happened. The imagination of a child, especially one dealing with the loss of a parent in such a way, most certainly contorts to cope with the events that occur. So the ideas of a mother wailing in the night and drawing on the walls, a poverty stricken household suddenly blessed with a magical tub, and the things that come out of the tub become the coping mechanism of a young child told things that soothe rather than explain.

Even the end, with the replica family appearing after the brother seems to drown, takes the tone of a child imagining things to more fully understand the situation. The missing family members are out there somewhere, and soon you will join them, and then, at last, you will be whole. No more broken family.

New Beginnings

First of all, authors of the fantastic have some sort of clinical aversion to exclamation points. The Millhauser stories, in particular, are fantastic in that they are told in a rather cut-and-dry way; the dresses covered everything, the tower touched heaven, the paintings were moving. An element of the fantastic is that it tries to call itself something else. Sometimes it even tries to be mundane. I think the argument can be made either way as to whether or not it is useful to lessen the impact of a story by limiting aides like exclamation points. Millhauser’s tone is so matter-of-fact that his stories are actually quite believable. When one steps out of the world that he’s created and gazes again at the real world, the contrast underlines the fantastic. This isn’t relevant to a particular story; it’s just something that I noticed.

Johnson’s final story, “The Evolution of Trickster Stories Among the Dogs of North Park After the Change”, was a heartbreaker. I appreciated her effort to put a happy ending in at the end for the few dogs that made it into the van and survived, but it wasn’t enough.

The entire idea is fascinating. I started thinking about what my dog would say if he could talk, and that thought alone made me sad. I make fun of him a lot, which isn’t very nice. He isn’t a very nice dog, though. After some serious thought, I do think that my family would keep Buddy if he started talking, because we already don’t like him. There wouldn’t be any hurt feelings if he called us fat, or criticized how we scratched ourselves, or whatever a dog would comment on. That ship sailed long ago.

The heartbreak would come in relationships like the one when Linna tries to give a woman back her dog back and she refused ever having one.

“(We like our slaves mute. We like to imagine they love us and they do. But they are also with us because freedom and security war in each of us, and sometimes security wins out. They love us. But.)” pg 280

There are so many different points packed into that excerpt. First, our dogs are our slaves. They do as we say, when we say, or they are punished. It doesn’t really hurt to think of them that way, either, because we are people and they are dogs. But. Suddenly, though, dog can talk. We’re people and, in a weird way, so are they. But they’re still also dogs, who sleep in cages and don’t have opposable thumbs. Suddenly, the dog situation becomes uncomfortably close to the abused-elderly-in-a-nursing-home situation. The dogs, like our old people, have gone from someone that we wanted to live with because they increased our quality of life to someone who requires discretion and extra time and care that, honestly, you probably don’t have. Unlike old people, though, we don’t have to bother putting them in a home to forget about them. Dogs can go right out on the streets, where they were before we opened our homes and let them in.

The other part of the quote, about security winning out, took me right back to the alien rape story. A blog post from last week never found its way to where it was meant to before Thursday, I’d like to talk about it now all the same.

 

I’ve been turning “Spar” around in my head all weekend. It’s defiantly an allegory for abusive relationships, and a well done one at that.

First, it doesn’t come right out and say what it is. A life is being lived, albeit a sad and confusing one. The story isn’t about a woman who is in an abusive relationship. The story is about a woman who is grieving her dead husband and aboard some alien spaceship and, somehow, this is happening. Abuse hides itself away in other things and eats away, bit by bit, until one day it is all that there is. “Spar” does a nice job of showing that, and of showing the person who still exists outside of the confines of the current situation.

Second, she tries to qualify it into something that she can understand.

“She pretends that this is rape. Rape at least she could understand. Rape is an interaction. It requires intention. It would imply that is hates or fears or wants. Rape would mean she is more than a glass of wine it fills” (203).

Her desire to call it rape, to stick on that label, speaks to some feeling of guilt on her part. I shouldn’t have done this, it’s my fault that I’m in this position. I haven’t been in this position and I won’t try to give some bullshit explanation as to why battered individuals have a tendency to feel this way, but they do. It happens.

Third, right before she climbed out of the tank, or the pod, or whatever you want to call it, she almost doesn’t.

“She is warm here, or at any rate not cold…” (205).

What she has, as bad as it is, isn’t death. It’s not warm, but it’s not cold either. This is what I was referencing about, about security almost winning out. But. The outside world could be much worse. It is bravery of the most basic kind that she chooses to crawl out, in search of a world that could be worse but might be much better.

Johnson has done an amazing job in these two stories of applying a common theme to a fantastic plot and making a story that isn’t boring as it tells the same message again. Humans have the capacity for bravery and kindness, but there is so much potential for darkness as well. These aren’t happy endings, but they’re new beginnings. That’s enough.

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