This week's stories are about: people who don't like sex, people who like sex a great deal, and people who are worried their babies might be trapped in an alien purgatory. It's a theme.
Image Credit: Granta, The Husband Stitch
Touch by Debbie Urbanski | Interfictions Online
People have asked me, "When did you know?" They figure there was a particular moment, when the sky darkened, or all the pines in front of me fell down, and I realized that I was different. But it's not like that. It's more a series of moments, like picking up the broken pieces of something, and you don't know what it is that you've broken, so you never bother to put the pieces together until it's towards the end, until it's obvious to a lot of people, including yourself.
My official conclusion read "with great regret, we have confirmed that Pearl had an irreparable first time." It's the easiest explanation. It doesn't put the blame solely on anyone. It makes me unfixable. This conclusion also makes a footnote of an unstable hynie who whispered into my young ears "unbearable fables," but I'll tell that part of the story later. To keep things simple at first, I'll begin the year I turned 18, though it's not the whole story.
I'm always down for a story about characters who don't experience sexual desire the way others around them do, or the way the media tells us simply everyone does. It's also cool to see a dystopic vision centered on sex that isn't about repressing or eliminating sexual desire, and yet is still repressive and oppressive.
You'll notice that there are footnotes to this story. I read it straight through and only looked at the notes once I got to the end and it made the reading experience of the story very different than if I'd read the notes as I went along. I have nothing to say on whether or not one way or the other is better, I just like that whichever way you choose means you're going to get something different out of the reading.
This is the kind of thing I'd expect from Interfictions Online. This journal of the interstitial arts doesn't only publish speculative fiction stories. The whole point is that they fall in-between or mix genres in a way that makes it not entirely clear that they belong solidly in one genre or another. This story is certainly speculative and fits in with the utopia/dystopia conversation quite well, but that's not all there is to it.
The Husband Stitch by Carmen Maria Machado | Granta
The boy is not facing me. I see the muscles of his neck and upper back, how he fairly strains out of his button-down shirts. I run slick. It isn't that I don't have choices. I am beautiful. I have a pretty mouth. I have a breast that heaves out of my dresses in a way that seems innocent and perverse all at the same time. I am a good girl, from a good family. But he is a little craggy, in that way that men sometimes are, and I want.
I once heard a story about a girl who requested something so vile from her paramour that he told her family and they had her hauled her off to a sanitarium. I don't know what deviant pleasure she asked for, though I desperately wish I did. What magical thing could you want so badly that they take you away from the known world for wanting it?
The boy notices me. He seems sweet, flustered. He says, hello. He asks my name.
I have always wanted to choose my moment, and this is the moment I choose.
Trigger warning: sexual abuse
For those of you not familiar with Granta, it's a literary fiction magazine and not an SFF one, though spec stories show up within it's pages often enough. This is exactly the kind of SF you'd expect to find in a magazine like Granta — language spun like gossamer, linear narrative dipping in and out of some other mode, be it the past, the future, or the stories of others, a mysterious truth held tight in the hand, a surprise to people unfamiliar with fantasy or horror but sweetly expected by those of us who are.
Though I did include a trigger warning above, I appreciate how sex and sexuality flow throughout this story. I also appreciate the absence of shame and shaming about sex. The world doesn't need any more of that.
Every night around 1 a.m. Earth-clock, I'd see the shadows of the camp's dead children on the windows as they walked by in silent single-file. The fiery light of the moon Akir cast them in sharp relief. The children that cast the shadows weren't zombies or vampires. They were nothing more or less than our dead children. They walked with the somber discipline of boarding school students, not the shambling gait of something decaying or the insectile crouch of something malevolent.
I watched them from our cabin every night, paralysed by fear, hoping they wouldn't stop to tap on the bunker windows, or god-forbid, speak through the panes, no mouth-fog blurring the glass because there was no heat in their bodies to make it. They never did.
Our child, the camp's children, will never reach the age or height of the ones that walked on Akir's World, will never develop those fingers which had sometimes squeaked across the bunker windows, will never grow out those strong downy limbs that had blocked the light of the moon on our windows or the hair that stirred around those dark heads in the sub-zero atmosphere.
Even now, back on Earth, I see their shadows on the curtains when I'm on the cusp of sleep, their bodies now silhouetted by the halogen glare of the city instead of an alien moon. But it's nothing but a ripple of light and dark across the fabric as it moves in the breeze.
After last year's fund drive, Strange Horizons added podcasts of stories to their oeuvre and since then I've been joyfully listening so my favorite stories even after I've read them. Anaea Lay is a wonderful narrator, and her NPR-soothing voice is quite perfect for this subtle story.
The Strange Horizons fund drive is only on for another 3 days and they haven't quite hit their final goal. Listen to the podcast, read the stories in the archive, and tell me it's not worth kicking in a buck or two or ten.