Saturday, October 07, 2006

Perhaps someone braver.

My cake was almost finished when Gabriel slid onto the bench opposite me, dropping a satchel at our feet, eyes rolling to the cracked ceiling of the old coffee shop and I knew it was couple trouble.

"I'm so had it with Taylor! Going on and on about wanting me to have babies. You'd think I was some kind of stay-home frumpy earth mother!"
"Wow. Taylor's so ambitious I thought they'd be planning to do it both ways simultaneously and you'd be staying home with the twins." It's old ground but I'm compelled to cover it anyway, "Maybe they're sick of you going to clubs and shooting darts into strangers."
"Hey; I wouldn't let anyone knock me up who didn't love me."
"Yeah, but I don't know how much Taylor cares about that when there's probably half a dozen little Gabriels running around that you don't know about," very old ground.
"Hah! We met at the Lactuca, Taylor so knows we all use birth control. No-one wants a club baby, such a hassle and no idea whether the father has any talents besides slow dancing." Gabriel's beautiful mouth isn't smiling but the bright brown eyes are crinkling in the way that every partner, from me onwards, has found so addictive.
"Baby'd slow your dancing down for sure." I get a sharply amused glance, and a jab of alertness to the pulse. I flush and remind myself I have too much to lose. I take a long sup of my latte. By the time I look up Gabriel's looking out the window, watching the old river flowing past. Above the curve of the cheekbone I can just see where the fine lines of a crow's footprint would be if they were still smiling. I lick my finger and pick up the delicious last crumbs with surface tension.

Still examining the optimistic fish rising for the orange leaves that drift past on the river's current, Gabriel asks, not quite lightly enough for the line,
"You think I'd be an okay Mum?" and turns to look at me. Why do you care what I think? What is the right answer here?
"... with the right person as a Dad, you'd be fabulous."
"Do you think Taylor's the right person?"
"Oh, I don't know. I do think you need someone who'd look after you and the children. Someone who would love them because they were yours as much as because they were theirs. Someone who would stick by you when you were sick and grumpy and all touched out for a couple of years."
"Someone like a best friend?"
I can't not meet those brown eyes, they light, and the question between us burns my words away.

(In Tim's loo there's a copy of Science News with an article about Nico Michiels' research on internally fertilizing, simultaneous hermaphrodites. It tells how, as Nature usually favours the parent who puts less effort into children and has more of them, if you were a hermaphrodite you'd want to be the sperm donor rather than the mother in any given sexual encounter.)

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Blogger susan said...

1. Did you like it?
2. Did it work for you? In what ways?
3. When did you work out they're hermaphrodites?
(What did you think they were).
4. Do you think they'll get back together and have a family?
5. Lactuca is lettuce (just in case you were curious).

5:25 PM  
Blogger Martha said...

I liked it. We all have the baby dilemma.

I don't try and work things out. I read until they work themselves out, so I didn't get it until I read the last bit. I wondered if they were swingers.

5:33 PM  
Blogger Cate said...

I really liked it, too! You have a beautiful way with words--some of your phrases are crisp, while others are like poetry (and both of those things appeal to me when I'm reading). Well done!

I definitely consider it flash fiction. There are a lot of flash editors who demand an obvious plot, but as a writer, I tend to produce pieces like this one--subtle plot, a moment in an interesting person's life, a description of a struggle. Also, your story really works for me as a reader.

Like Martha, it took me until the end to figure out the hermaphrodite element--I'm a bit slow on the uptake. I'm not sure if they'll get together or not but there's an intensity to their relationship. They're always going to wonder "what if . . ."

Well done!

BTW, did you visit PA, yet? If so what did you think?

2:36 AM  
Blogger susan said...

Thank you both.

Cate: I enjoyed myself in PA, my friend was there and it was pretty. The kids very much enjoyed Hershey.

3:28 AM  
Blogger Cate said...

Susan, I wish I had contacted you sooner--we are only 90 minutes from Hershey (though we've never been!). For some reason, I thought you were going to be more North in PA. Oh well. I'm glad you had a good time!

12:50 AM  
Blogger mashugenah said...

I've been trying to think what to say. It reminds me of a certain story mode, something Grace Paley-ish. Highly elliptical and a lot of reliance on audience interpolation and inference. I didn't pick they were Hermaphrodites, I just got confused by the loss of definite gender markers (gender neutral names, etc). I guess that plonks me into the "lazy reader" category. But I like to process things afterwards, not necessarily during. :/

As a slightly confusing but fairly general discussion about children... it didn't do much for me. Never been there. I have been to the other place it seemed to go: the slightly awkward ex-relationship conversation, the half-lidded awareness of the odd dynamic. That aspect resonated with me.

I think the strength in that deliberate-excerpt is the suggestion that answers might be available, without providing them. It's a fairly artificial style, but once you can make it feel natural, which you almost do, it can be very powerful. It doesn't make it in the end, because some of the suppressions feel deliberate, rather than flowing naturally. I'd be hard pressed to make a word-by-word assessment of where, it's just a feeling.

Just remember, you did ask.

8:59 PM  
Anonymous house monkey said...

I shouldn't have read this when I was totally knackered.

edcaceet - obscure Canadian film maker, his works include "A Penguin in my Boots" and a remake of "gone with the Wind" performed entirely in Inuit by midgets wearing fishing waders.

11:35 PM  
Blogger susan said...

Thank you people. I guess it would be better with more and unsubtler clues.

Like this perhaps:
"Wow. Taylor's so ambitious I thought they'd be planning to have sex both ways simultaneously, so you could both conceive, and then I suppose you'd end up staying home looking after the baby Taylor birthed as well as the one they fathered."

I used "they" rather than "it" because I thought the plurality of that singular suggested plurality of other things but maybe "it" would be more clearly non-human. Thoughts?

(Oh, ftukfcj this. I'm off to see edcaceet's "Gone with the Wind" anyone want to come with me?)

6:57 PM  
Blogger Hoaenz said...

OH! lol! Well I don't know what it says about my brain but even with the bit at the end about the magazine article I hadn't linked it to the rest of your post, just been reading each sentence again trying to make sense of it - male? female? whats going on here? - but enjoyed it too!
I guess a week of sick kids/no sleep has taken its toll - or is my brain permanently asleep??
Going back to read it again now.

8:48 AM  

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