Seasons of Glass and Iron by Amal El-Mohtar
5/21/17. After seeing that this story won the 2017 Nebula for Short Story today, I read it on the Uncanny Magazine website.
What happens when a woman who is magically tasked with walking until she wears out seven pairs of iron shoes meets a woman who is magically isolated on top of a glass hill until a suitor rides up the hill to claim her?
Tabitha walks across all sorts of terrain, hoping to wear out the soles of her iron shoes. She started with seven pairs and at the onset of the story, is around halfway through her long journey. One day, she comes upon a giant glass hill, atop which sits a girl.
Amira sits on a glass throne on a glass hill. Every day that is not too cold, lots of suitors attempt to ride horses up the hill to claim her as theirs, for her father is a king and she his only daughter. Instead of marrying her off to one of his rivals, and seeming to show favor on that one territory, Amira agreed to stay on top of this hill until someone can claim her. She is magically provided golden apples that sustain her while she waits.
When Tabitha sees the hill, she sees it as an opportunity to wear down her shoes, as it seems like unconventional materials wear the iron down faster than dirt. She reaches the top and both women are happy for the company.
Over time, as Tabitha stays for quite some time, they learn more about each other and their unique feelings of isolation come out.
Once upon a time, Tabitha fell in love with a bear. The bear turned into a man at times but he was abusive to her. Though she still loved him (or, as is the likely case, just thinks she loves him), he tells her that she may visit her mother but not speak of him, for he fears that her mother will speak ill of him. Tabitha speaks to her mother, who also sees the marks of abuse on Tabitha, and her mother suggests Tabitha burn his pelt so he will have to forever live as a man. When Tabitha does his, her husband is angry, and he gives her the pelt and seven pairs of iron shoes. It is only when she has worn out all the pairs that he will remain a man forever, he tells her. So she walks...
The two women talk through their feelings -- both in a cage of sorts that is partially of their own making. Together, they decide to help each other and to walk off the glass hill together. Amira gives Tabitha several golden apples to sustain her and hopefully help heal her mangled feet, as well as silken shoes. Tabitha agrees to "claim" Amira and help her end her life of magical aloneness.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
This story is one which really conveys how people get stuck in situations and, sometimes because they are alone, cannot see a way out or don't think there is one/they deserve one. Also, how many people strive to achieve goals only because they are what society seems to think is normal. Just because you chose something does not mean you have to live with it forever. You can choose again.
Winner of the 2016 Nebula Award for Short Story.
"Tabitha walks, and thinks of shoes."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
This whole story is very memorable and somehow achieves that fairy tale-esque vibe of being timeless.
fairy tale, literature, fantasy, iron shoes, glass hill, women, friendship, relationships, nebula winner, choice, love
5/8/16. Ebook of "A Guide to Being Born" by Ramona Ausubel. (Riverhead Books, 2013) Also published in One Story and Best American Fantasy 2009.
In a ship at sea, lots of grandmothers exist in a state of uneasiness. They aren't sure what they are doing there or whether they have any control over where they are going.
A group of grandmothers find themselves on a ship at sea, unaware of how they got there or what they are doing. Alice, one of the grandmothers, is the protagonist of this story. She wanders the decks of the ship, talking about what the other women are doing--mostly just passing the time recalling memories, making small talk, playing parts of games. There are large containers they contemplate and then finally break open. Inside, they find one is filled with baseball bats, one with padded toilet seats and the last with yellow roses. They end up unraveling rope and trying to connect the strands to the baseball bats to go fishing. They catch an angler fish and all have opinions about how to name it. Alice ends up naming it (as she was the catcher) and they release it back into the sea. As the story goes on, the reader realizes that this is an imagined in-between between life and death. In a hospital room, Alice's family worries and surrounds her. On the ship, she thinks about her life and loves. She decides to go swimming, since it's ridiculous to be in the ocean indefinitely without swimming. She makes knots in a rope, each one representing a person in her life, and then jumps off the rope into the ocean after climbing down most of the way. She enjoys the feel of the water, swimming around until she throws her arms up in a celebratory gesture, flicking water droplets out into the sky like fireworks.
Thoughts or Additional Info:
I love this story. The idea of dying is so scary to me and the idea of loved ones dying is even scarier. I also often think about where the minds of those in a coma or experiencing late-stage illness may be. This is a soothing story--one I can easily see revisiting during certain times in my life.
"The grandmothers--dozens of them--find themselves at sea." - Ramona Ausubel
Memorable Lines or Passages:
"Alice is a lover of views, of great expanses, and she is happy now as she has always been, to look out." (Loc 45-54 of 2424 in Kindle ebook)
"There is always the chance of a giant squid and the great likelihood of regular squid." (Loc. 198 of 2424 in Kindle ebook)
grandmas, grandmothers, ship, limbo, evocative, existential, life and death, dying, memory, memories, yellow roses, fishing, angler fish, boat, toilet seats, Alice, women
The Rocking-Horse Winner by D.H. Lawrence
5/8/16. Read online at www.classicshorts.com. Originally published in 1926.
A family living beyond their means finds luck and money in an unlikely place: their young son.
A mother and father have three children, two girls and one boy, Paul. Both parents make an income, but it is modest, especially when it is revealed that their other family members and peers seem to have more than enough. The mother always seems dissatisfied and though the parents rarely mention the family's money troubles, the children can feel it in the air and the house. In fact, often the children believe they can hear the house saying things like, "There's never enough money," which obviously makes them feel uneasy. Mother and Paul have a conversation about why they don't have any money and Mother says it's because they are unlucky. Paul's father is unlucky and Paul's mother is unlucky for having married Paul's father. She says that some people are just born lucky and it's better to be lucky than rich because you can lose money if you're rich, but you can make more money if you're lucky.
Paul has an old rocking-horse for a toy, and though he is getting too old for it, he still rides it. One day, Uncle Oscar is visiting and talks with Paul about his rocking-horse. He asks Paul what the horse's name is and Paul says it changes every week--last week it was Sansovino. Oscar says that horse just won at Ascot and, through a back and forth conversation, they and the reader realize that Paul has been riding his rocking-horse and somehow seeing the upcoming race and predicting the winners. He doesn't always know with certainty, but if he fully immerses himself, he will know if it is the sure winner or not. Paul has been working with Bassett, a gardner, who places the bets for Paul and for himself. They've already made some money but Oscar also gets involved and the trio make even more. At one point, Paul cashes out 5,000 pounds and they set up a trust in his mother's name to give her 1,000 pounds every year on her birthday for five years. When she gets the letter, she is disappointed she can't get it all at once and talks to the trustee. Paul and Oscar agree that she can have the full amount to pay outstanding debts. The family goes back to living in a little bit of luxury, but Paul can still feel the house whispering for more, more, more.
The Derby is coming up and Paul just knows that if he can predict the winner, the family's money problems will be solved and everyone will be happy. Mother and Father go out for an evening and Mother feels constantly uneasy. She calls to check up on the kids and hears from their nanny that they are. When they return, she hears a weird noise and goes to investigate. Up in Paul's room, in the dark, he is furiously riding his rocking-horse. He screams "Malabar! It's Malabar" to his parents before passing out. The parents are confused but Oscar is there and understands. He and Bassett place bets on Malabar to win the Derby and they had planned to bet a huge sum of money for Paul. At 14-to-1 odds, Paul's bet ends up netting the family 70,000 pounds (plus about 10,000 he already had from betting.) They tell Paul this and he is so happy. He tells his mother all about how he can predict the winner after he rides his rocking-horse, but he is so overworked that he passes away that evening.
Thoughts and Other Info:
Poor Paul, always trying to help out his family. This is a story I've read a few times but I've never read anything else like it. It's so memorable.
"There was a woman who was beautiful, who started with all the advantages, yet she had no luck."
Memorable Lines or Passages:
"My God, Hester, you're eighty-odd thousand to the good, and a poor devil of a son to the bad. But, poor devil, poor devil, he's best gone out of a life where he rides his rocking-horse to find a winner." - D.H. Lawrence
rocking horse, winner, rocking-horse, lucky, unlucky, gambling, betting, horse race, derby, predictions, horserace, sad, family
I'm just a short story lover and voracious reader who wants to keep track of the shorts I read and help others remember the ones they've forgotten.