Sunday Shorts is a series where I blog about short fiction – from flash to novellas. For the time being, I’m sticking to prose, although it’s been suggested I could expand this feature to include single episodes of anthology television series like The Twilight Zone or individual stories/issues of anthology comics (like the 1970s DC horror or war anthology titles). So anything is possible. But for now, the focus is on short stories.
Every now and then, these posts end up being a mish-mash of recent reads that have no obvious connection. This is one of those posts.
“The Good Girl” by Lucy V. Snyder (from her collection Soft Apocalypses but also June’s selection on the author’s Patreon). This is not the first time I’ve read “The Good Girl,” and it probably won’t be the last. But I have to say that between readings, I’d sort of forgotten just how wonderfully sly Snyder is at easing the supernatural aspect into a story whose premise is already horrific: a young woman having to return home to the father who abused her and the mother who let it happen, for one last chance at a goodbye to a sister she’d abandoned to her fate. There are so many directions the story could go on that description alone, and Snyder keeps you guessing as to exactly which direction she’s leading you in. The narrator struggles with her own guilt and her own justifications on the drive to the family homestead; the characterization is deep and nuanced, the narrator unsure of whether she qualifies as the “good girl” of the title either now or in the past. There’s also a delightful secondary character who provides a little light humor in an otherwise dark story, because we all need a good chuckle before the final scare.
“Freak Corner” by John Rolfe Gardiner (from One Story #254, June 20 2019). Abuse, or at least neglect, of a different kind confronts the narrator of this story. It is 1953, and while the narrator’s small town neighborhood is in an uproar about how Alfie Kipps is now Margaret Kipps, the narrator has a more immediate concern: his deaf sister’s education. The story shines a light on just how recently American Sign Language was considered a fake language, a cheat for deaf people to avoid learning to speak properly, at the same time that transgender issues were just starting to come to the public conscious thanks to Christine Jorgensen. It also shines a light on how far we have, and haven’t come: ASL is a recognized language after a long-fought battle; transgender people are still ridiculed, shamed, and threatened just for existing. Gardiner’s story is less about trans-acceptance than it is about ASL-acceptance, but the narrator’s sister, Gayle, is bolstered by the support of this other social outcast even while her brother falters between supporting her and toeing the parentally-set line of “speak, don’t sign.” There’s also an undercurrent of “false nostalgia,” the narrator saying, without saying, that “the good old days” weren’t so good for a lot of people.
The Story of O-Tei by Lafcadio Hearn (from Oriental Ghost Stories, Wordsworth Tales of Mystery & The Supernatural edition). I’ve been trying (with varying success) to read at least one short story by an author on their birthday, mixing authors I’ve long loved with those I’ve never read. This is the first Lafcadio Hearn story I think I’ve ever read, despite owning both the Wordsworth Edition paperback collection sampling stories from Hearn’s several books as well as the hardcover compendium the Library of America recently issued. I maybe should have chosen a longer story to sample, but even this short simple tale I think captures Hearn’s tone. In “The Story of O-Tei,” the titular woman is betrothed to a man she really wants to marry but she falls ill before the wedding can be performed. She promises him that if he waits, she’ll return to him. He asks for a sign, and she says it’s not in her power to give, but he’ll know her. In the hands of a more modern author, the misfortunes that befall the man when he marries another woman under family pressure would probably be the focal point of the story; Hearn glosses over them except to show that they are not really road-blocks to the fated reunion. Is that reunion happy or horrific? I won’t spoil that for the potential reader. But I loved the way Hearn tells the story: not full of the heavy detail of his Victorian peers, but full of heart and acceptance that the supernatural is part of life.