This week’s stories are about daughters who don’t want to be like their mothers, mothers who want impossible things for their daughters, and trees that resent being thrown out in the cold and snow.
Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers by Alyssa Wong | Nightmare Magazine: Queers Destroy Horror!
As my date—Harvey? Harvard?—brags about his alma mater and Manhattan penthouse, I take a bite of overpriced kale and watch his ugly thoughts swirl overhead. It’s hard to pay attention to him with my stomach growling and my body ajitter, for all he’s easy on the eyes. Harvey doesn’t look much older than I am, but his thoughts, covered in spines and centipede feet, glisten with ancient grudges and carry an entitled, Ivy League stink.
“My apartment has the most amazing view of the city,” he’s saying, his thoughts sliding long over each other like dark, bristling snakes. Each one is as thick around as his Rolex-draped wrist. “I just installed a Jacuzzi along the west wall so that I can watch the sun set while I relax after getting back from the gym.”
I nod, half-listening to the words coming out of his mouth. I’m much more interested in the ones hissing through the teeth of the thoughts above him.
She’s got perfect tits, lil’ handfuls just waiting to be squeezed. I love me some perky tits.
I’m gonna fuck this bitch so hard she’ll never walk straight again.
Gross. “That sounds wonderful,” I say as I sip champagne and gaze at him through my false eyelashes, hoping the dimmed screen of my iPhone isn’t visible through the tablecloth below. This dude is boring as hell, and I’m already back on Tindr, thumbing through next week’s prospective dinner dates.
She’s so into me, she’ll be begging for it by the end of the night.
I can’t wait to cut her up.
My eyes flick up sharply. “I’m sorry?” I say.
Harvey blinks. “I said, Argentina is a beautiful country.”
This story is so visceral and it doesn’t hold back on all that’s implied in this opening bit. Wong has a talent for creating horrific situations that nonetheless feel right and even righteous. It’s not easy to make a reader identify or empathize with a narrator of this nature, and yet the author manages to do so (for me, at least). Highly Recommended.
Who Will Greet You at Home by Lesley Nneka Arimah | The New Yorker
The yarn baby lasted a good month, emitting dry, cotton-soft gurgles and pooping little balls of lint, before Ogechi snagged its thigh on a nail and it unravelled as she continued walking, mistaking its little huffs for the beginnings of hunger, not the cries of an infant being undone. By the time she noticed, it was too late, the leg a tangle of fibre, and she pulled the string the rest of the way to end it, rather than have the infant grow up maimed. If she was to mother a child, to mute and subdue and fold away parts of herself, the child had to be perfect.
Yarn had been a foolish choice, she knew, the stuff for women of leisure, who could cradle wool in the comfort of their own cars and in secure houses devoid of loose nails. Not for an assistant hairdresser who took danfo to work if she had money, walked if she didn’t, and lived in an “apartment” that amounted to a room she could clear in three large steps. Women like her had to form their children out of sturdier, more practical material to withstand the dents and scrapes that came with a life like hers. Her mother had formed her from mud and twigs and wrapped her limbs tightly with leaves, like moin moin: pedestrian items that had produced a pedestrian girl. Ogechi was determined that her child would be a thing of whimsy, soft and pretty and tender and worthy of love. But first she had to go to work.
I know we SFF folks don’t often go looking for fiction in magazines known for their literary fiction (partly because most stuff that has the whiff of speculative fiction is usually not that well done and, in a worst case scenario, insulting in the extreme). Someone recommended this one to me on Twitter and I’m glad I looked, because it’s a beautiful, sad story that is solidly fantasy and the author knows what she’s about. It also has some resonance with the theme of mothers and daughters in the Wong story. Highly Recommended.
The Winter Wraith by Jeffrey Ford| The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (Nov/Dec 2015)
Henry sensed resignation in the posture of the christmas tree. It slouched toward the living-room window as if peering out. There was no way he could plug its lights in, cheer it up. The thing was dryer than the Sandman’s mustache, its spine a stick of kindling. The least vibration brought a shower of needles. Ornaments fell of their own accord. Some broke, which he had to sweep and vacuum, initiating the descent of more needles, more ornaments. The cat took some as toys and batted them around the kitchen floor. Glittering evidence in the field indicated Bothwell, the dog, had acquired a taste for tinsel.
Mero had told him not to take it down. She had a special way she wrapped the ornaments when boxing them and he wasn’t about to argue for doing it by himself. At the end of that first week she was away in China, though, the presence of the tree became an imposition. He described it in his Friday journal as, “A distant cousin, once accused of pyromania, arriving for an indefinite visit.”
In the middle of his work, in the middle of the grocery store, when walking around the lake with the dog, the spirit of that sagging pine was always waiting by the front window in the living room of his thoughts. Then Mero finally called on FaceTime from Shanghai. Her image was distorted as if he was seeing her through rippling water. In a heartbeat, the picture froze, but she kept talking. He told her he missed her and she said the same. She said Shanghai was amazing, enormous, and that she liked the young woman who was her translator and guide. She asked about Bothwell. Henry spoke about the freezing wind, the snow. She told him to be careful driving, and then he told her about the tree. “It’s shot,” he said. “I gotta take it down.”
Suddenly the call cut out and he couldn’t get her back. He wanted to tell her he loved her and hear her voice some more, but in a way he understood. It was like dialing another world. The distance between Ohio and Shanghai made him shiver.
Ford has this way with voice, that just pulls me in and keeps me engaged no matter what is going on. And as we head into November and the polar vortex threatens to swallow some of us up again, the story both braces me for it and makes me dread it.
The story also makes me dread that moment when we have to deal with our own drying, haunting Christmas tree. I will insist on putting it out right before the trash guys haul it away.