This month we have 2 featured fiction pieces! We hope you enjoy them!
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“The Burning of the Dolls” by Sarah Rai Anderson
I first bled just before my thirteenth birthday. I will never forget the way I felt as I stared down at the bright red spot on my bed sheets. I could feel the inside of my thighs sticky with blood. I knew it would happen one day, but I wasn’t ready for it to be today. I wanted to run. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to scream at the gods in anger. I wanted to shout with pride in the streets. I was a woman. For all that that meant, for good or for bad, I was a woman. This was the proof, bright and wet on my bed sheets. I was no longer a girl. My childhood was over. The next few hours passed like days, those first few days passed like years. The way things do when your life totally and irrevocably changes. My female servants whisked me off. I was bathed and dressed in a daze. Everyone was talking quickly about the arrangements that needed to be made, the people who needed to be alerted. I was to be married to Laius, who would one day be king. My wedding had been arranged since I was three years old. I still wonder how it was arranged. Had my father sold me off to the highest bidder, or had there been a deeper political motive that I didn’t understand. Had the gods decreed it? Did an Oracle foresee it in the stars? Had the Goddess Hera told the Fates to weave the marriage into my tapestry? I will never know. I am “not to be concerned about such things”. The point was I was going to be married to Laius, and I was going to produce lots and lots of little heirs, and I was going to be very, very happy. I didn’t have a choice. During the past ten years I had wondered many times what Laius was like. No one had bothered to introduce us. Would he be kind? Would he be gentle? Would I love him? The night before our wedding, I burned my dolls. I didn’t want to. They were my friends: my confidants. They had been with me through thick and thin. They had endured being forgotten in the garden (never overnight, only until they could be tracked down right before bedtime by a cranky nursemaid who just wanted me to stop screaming). They had hidden under the bedsheet with me long into the night as I whispered my secrets to them. They had listened patiently and perfectly to every fear, every hope, every dream, or wish, or secret I ever had. They loved me unconditionally. I loved them even more. I watched their beautiful painted faces crack and blacken in their tiny funeral pyres. “Stop crying! They’re only toys. Soon you will have a real baby to raise.” It was true. The wedding passed. For all the anticipation, it was over before I knew it. I can’t even remember the wedding, the memory was blotted out by the memory of the wedding night. I will not share that memory, but know this. Laius was not kind. He was not gentle. And I certainly did not love him. Luckily, it didn’t take long for my womb to quicken. As soon as it was clear that it had, I was granted reprieve. I was excited. This was it. I was a woman, and this is what it meant. I had a life growing inside me. I wouldn’t need dolls. Not anymore. I wasn’t alone. It would be me and him, or her, wouldn’t that be great! I imagined the look on Laius’s face if our firstborn was a girl. “We’re in this together, little one.” I would whisper every night as I went to sleep. Much like the way I used to share my hopes and fears with my dolls, I began to tell them to my child. Everyday I felt them grow inside me. Soon I could feel them start to move inside me. My baby. I couldn’t wait until the day that I could hold them in my arms, but even as I counted down the days I felt dread clawing at my heart. Something would go wrong. I didn’t know what, but I knew with cold certainty that something was going to go wrong. “All mothers feel that way.” Everyone assured me. “Everything will be fine.” I knew they were wrong. I knew that my baby could never come. I needed to keep them safe. They were safe right where they were. They were safe. They were warm. They were loved. They needed to stay put. They didn’t. He didn’t. He was perfect. Everything about him, from his healthy perfect cry, to his wrinkled perfect skin. He looked shriveled and red. A lot more skeletal than I expected, but that didn’t matter. He was beautiful in all of this newborn ugliness. When I had him in my arms, I knew I had never truly understood love until this moment. He was so small, so warm. I smelled his hair, he even smelled like love. I couldn’t explain it then, and I can’t explain it now. He was mine. Those hours after his birth, those were the happiest I had ever felt. They are one bright, shining beacon in my memory. Then he was gone. Before I even knew what was going on. He was snatched from my arms. Ripped away from me with all the gentle tenderness of a rabid wolf. I screamed as he was pulled away from me. I screamed as before my eyes one of Laius’s men pinned his tiny perfect feet together. I screamed and he screamed. He screamed for me. He screamed for his mother. I had grown him inside of me. I had kept him safe. He had slept soundly in my arms for the entirety of his tiny life. He knew nothing and no one other than me. He was screaming for me to help him. Three of Laius’s men had to hold me back. I tried to get to him. I tried. I kicked and screamed. I bit and bucked. I would have fought an entire army to get to him. I would have taken on Ares himself. But I was too weak. I was never even told why. I asked. I screamed. I begged. I pleaded. Why? At least tell me why? Why had my child been taken from me? Why had Laius murdered him? Sorry, not murdered. Exposed. It was an insult to the gods to murder a family member. My baby wasn’t even given the mercy of a quick death. How long had he laid there? How long had he been alone in the cold? Had he spent the whole time screaming for me? Had he wondered why I didn’t come, or had he given up on me? Did he think I abandoned him? Did he die hating me? Had animals gotten him, or had he simply frozen to death? I was “not to be concerned about such things”. I was “not to be concerned with any of those things”. The years that followed were dark. Dark and lonely. I don’t even know how many passed. One...two...five...seventeen… Everyone complimented me on how well I kept my youth and beauty. Even as I approached thirty, people told me I scarcely looked older than a teenager. The truth was I was dead. I watched as the people around me got older. Their faces were molded and changed by their emotions. Lines would form around their lips as their mouths pushed their cheeks up in smiles. Wrinkles would form between and above their eyebrows as their faces creased in worry. Laughing caused crinkles around the corners of the eyes. Too much frowning caused lines to form by the chin, and too much crying caused the nose to crease. My face never fell victim to these insidious signs of aging. I never smiled. I never frowned, I didn’t laugh or worry. I never even cried. I sat where I was supposed to sit. I slept where I was supposed to sleep. I ate when food was given to me. But I did little else. My servants would dress me in the best fashion. They would do my hair and paint my face. Laius would occasionally parade me around when it suited him and people would compliment him on how beautiful I was, how docile, how obedient. “The perfect wife” they would say. “The ideal woman” they would tell Laius. I wasn’t. I wasn’t a wife, after my pregnancy Laius never brought me to bed again. I wasn’t a woman. Women were meant to be mothers, that is what I had been told my entire life. I wasn’t a mother. I had been for a few glorious hours, but I was not anymore and never would be again. I was a doll, no more alive than the precious friends I had once given to the pyre. Then Laius died. Once more the world shifted. The clouds had passed. For the first time in seventeen years, I saw the sun. If I live a thousand years, I will never forget the moment I got the news. “Your Majesty, I regret that I carry the most grievous news. Your glorious husband was murdered. It happened on a road right outside of Thebes…” It was as if I finally emerged from a sea that I did not know I was drowning in. I collapsed when I heard the news. My servants were quick to catch me. I began to weep. My servants fanned me, trying to calm and console me. I didn’t dare tell them that I was weeping in joy. I wept and I wept. Seventeen years of feelings that I had buried suddenly exploded out of me in tears. I wept until my chest ached. I wept until my throat was sore. I wept until my eyes were raw. And then, I wept some more. I was bed ridden for two days weeping, and a third day laughing. When I finally emerged from my room, it was a different world. A world full of color and light. A world of hope and emotions. I didn’t know what my fate would be now, I had heard stories of what happened to queens without heirs once their husbands died. Very few of those tales turned out well. I didn’t care. Laius was dead. I was free. Thebes was free. The Sphinx had held the city of Thebes captive for so long, I hadn’t even realized it. I knew about the Sphinx, all Thebans did but she had been there my entire life. I never had never given her a second thought. During my mourning period, a young prince from Corinth had defeated her. I was still too disoriented to fully understand what that meant, but the city was celebrating. The hero had apparently been brought to the palace with much fanfare, which the servants were still talking about. As soon as it was considered appropriate, I was presented to him. During my absence it was decided that the hand of the recently widowed queen would be a fine prize for defeating the monster. I assumed I was “not to be concerned” with who decided this. Probably my brother, was my father still alive? I should probably figure that out. The prince was young, younger than me by a decade at least. He was nothing special to look at; a gawky little thing, bowlegged, horrible skin. His face seemed to be trying very hard to grow a beard, but only a few scraggly whiskers managed to make their way through. He smiled at me and stammered as he introduced himself. He was clearly more enamored by me than I was by him, but I didn’t need to be enamored. He smiled at me with a genuine, honest smile. There was no ambition in his eyes. He didn’t see me as his pretty, perfect plaything. He saw the face of his bride and smiled in joy. He was the most beautiful man I had ever seen. He was so awkward on our wedding night. I found myself nervous too. In a way, I was just as much a virgin as he was. I had performed my wifely duties with Laius, but I had never actually made love. Neither of us knew what to do. We were awkward, then we were laughing, then we were making love, then we were talking, and then we were asleep in each other’s arms. He was more than kind. He was clever. We would talk for hours with each other. Once more I had someone to talk to, to tell my secret, my hopes, my fears, and for the first time ever that someone could talk back. And we talked. We talked about everything. We told stories, discussed ideas, made jokes, pondered mysteries. We talked about the state of the city and the business that we had to get to. He not only thought I should be concerned with things, he asked for my opinions and valued my input. We talked about our pasts. He had run away from his parents after receiving an ill prophecy from the oracle. I told him of my father and admitted I didn’t care for him at all. He helped me heal. Soon we had four beautiful children; two sons and two daughters. The oldest was a boy, colicky from day one. He was spoiled beyond belief from the moment I discovered I was pregnant with him. Then his brother came. He was breech, I would have died giving birth had the gods not blessed me with an excellent midwife. He was quieter than his brother and seemed more docile, though he could be sneaky. Our first daughter had her father wrapped around her finger from the moment he saw her. She was every bit as clever as he was and liked people knowing it. By two she had mastered the art of kicking him off his own throne. The youngest was sweet and sensitive. She cried at just about everything and was convinced that monsters were going to eat her toes if she accidentally let them hang off the side of her bed. Then the plague came. Sickness spread throughout the streets, swift and brutal. It started as a cough and a low fever. Next it would be hard to breathe. Then would come the chills and the headaches. Death wasn’t a certainty, but it was the most likely outcome. The citizens were terrified. I was terrified. I clung to my children, just as helpless to protect them from this threat as I was when Laius snatched away my first born. This was clearly an act of the gods. Soon we discovered its cause. Apollo was angry: Thebes was harboring an abomination and only once the murderer of Laius atones for his crimes would the plague be lifted. My husband vowed to find Laius’s murderer. I would just as soon give Laius’s murderer a reward as punish him, but Apollo had to be appeased. I gave my husband all the information I had, though I didn’t have much. I was told Laius was attacked at a place where three roads met, but I knew nothing beyond that. My husband discovered there was a single witness to the murder and called for him. There was little we could do but wait. Time dragged as days crept by, everyday more died in the city around us. The sickness was coming closer and closer, encroaching on the palace walls which would be useless in defending my beautiful children. Then word came that my father-in-law had died. I had never met him, but I was devastated on my husband’s behalf. He had cared deeply for his father, and because of that I was shocked to see the relief in his face. Finally, he elaborated on the prophecy that caused him to leave home. The Oracle told him he was destined to commit the ultimate act of blasphemy when he killed his own father and laid with his mother. If his father was dead, the prophecy could never be fulfilled. And then the messenger spoke once more. My husband's father had not been King Polybus like he had believed. My husband’s mother Queen Merope had never successfully bore a living child. So when a shepherd found a child abandoned on the mountain, he had brought that child to them to be their prince. As the messenger told the story my heart sped up faster and faster as pieces started to fall into place in my head. The shepherd had found a child abandoned on the mountain. His feet were swollen from a nail pinning them together. The child had been abandoned by a servant of Laius. Suddenly I was thirteen years old again. Screaming as my son was mutilated in front of me. I had never told my husband about my firstborn. That was the one secret buried too deep to bear. My mouth went dry. I begged my husband not to pursue this any further. My husband.... My son… My Oedipus… He didn’t listen. He was crazed. He couldn’t see the truth yet. He didn’t have the same pieces I had. I couldn’t stay. I couldn’t be there when he found out. I couldn’t bear it. I turned my back on him, and I ran. I went to my bedroom, our bedroom. As I slipped a noose around my throat, I inexplicably thought of my dolls, burning in the fire.
Sadie Rai Anderson is a UWS student. She is interested in folklore and mythology. She likes fantasy and history. She has a particular interest in retelling classic stories through unique perspectives. She currently lives in Superior with her best friend and their kids.
“At the River’s Edge” by Jill Bommarito
She had come to the river’s edge to escape the reality of the world she lived in, because it had gotten to be too much on her plate to deal with. She needed a hiatus from the pressures of life, and to come to terms with what she hadn’t been able to before. She needed to restructure, possibly, the framework of what had been that wasn’t working for her in the present. She stared, hypnotized, at the sun setting in the sky as the orange-gold orb, perfectly round, sank lower on the horizon, until at last it became a bright intense glow behind the trees, inhabiting the spaces there. She thought of her retired housemate, Floyde, and his poem she read earlier that afternoon. “Take a look at this,” he’d said, showing her what he wrote. She read, The sun still shines—yes, she does, She rises in the sky like a golden warm yellow ball. She pours forth the light on a blue and green, white-clouded marble… As people gather below her, arms raised, basking in her rays, in her warmth, She’s done her work for the day, as she sets as a gold amber lamp to the sky, Disappearing into the clouds, melting through the trees, sinking into the horizon, The light shines through, and is still there… “It’s…it’s a very nice poem. It sounds like it’s describing a sunset.” “Yes, but something else too. It’s just the symbolism that stumps you up…” She remembered the last line of the sun setting amidst the clouds: She sets, as a gold amber lamp to the sky, disappearing into the clouds, sinking into the horizon and trees. The light shines through, and is still there… The poem came to mind, making more sense to her then, in that moment, because she could see it with her own eyes. The light shines through, and is still there… She closed her eyes and felt fatigue overtake her as the river’s waters rushed past. She lay down in her tent, as sleep finally overtook her. She was looking up at the sky, when suddenly, she saw the emergence of glowing, pure white spirit-bodies of people rise up and leave the atmosphere, flying upward into space with their arms outstretched… She awoke. What could it mean? It had shocked and stunned her. She had no words for how she felt. Something far greater went beyond this world too awesome to conceive. It made ordinary life circumstances pale in comparison. It was something amazing, out of this world, and for real. Yet apprehension gripped her; it seemed far off, incomprehensible, yet close. She drove home absentmindedly, contemplating solemnly the dream she’d had, with the sun obscured behind a thick shroud of smoke from wildfires. It was still there. She thought of Floyde’s poem more clearly as she remembered the last line, seeming so relevant to her now, in its meaning: The light shines through, and is still there…
Jill Bommarito is a student at UW-Superior, currently completing an IDS degree. The fields in her IDS degree feature Writing as the main emphasis, along with First Nations Studies, Art, and Gender Studies. Jill is originally from Plymouth, Michigan, and moved to the upper Great Lakes region in 2015 and has lived in both northern Wisconsin and northern Minnesota since then. She is now living in Northwest Minnesota. Her hobbies include beading, reading, hiking, being in nature, and writing. Genres she’s interested in include short stories, memoirs, drama, mixed hybrid genres, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, mystery, suspense, and inspirational narratives.