“Three Ways to Ruin Your Best Friend’s Birthday (and How She Fixes It)” by Andrea Corbin (972)
This is a rather sweet story about friends and celebrations and gifts. It features a main character who wants to make her best friend Nisha’s birthday something special. It makes good use of a science fiction setting where alien technology makes time travel and personal flight and interstellar tourism possible. The relationship between Nisha and the narrator is interesting and complicated—Nisha is active and passionate, very much swept up in the moment and doing the right thing, while the narrator is more timid and fairly more anxious. They are a worrier, always concerned that the gifts that they plan for Nisha are disasters because of how they turn out—typically...not well. There are arrests and there are fights and the narrator tends to believe that these events make the gifts, and therefore the birthdays, ruined. Which is something that I very much understand, because the narrator is a perfectionist, because she can’t afford to do much and what she takes risks on do not turn out the way she wants them to. The story isn’t just about her, though—it’s also about Nisha and the ways that she views these gifts—not as presents exactly but as experiences and opportunities. Each time the narrator does something for her, Nisha is already planning to go farther with it. As the narrator points out, they come up with the first step, and then Nisha goes the rest of the way, often pulling the narrator along with her. And for the narrator, whose anxieties keep them from feeling comfortable about their decisions, about their plans, but who wants to be more like Nisha, who wants to venture out boldly, but who needs a little bit more confidence. It’s a fun story, one that well captures how friends can lean on each other, how they can complement each other, and how they can help each other be who they want to be. It’s a rewarding and neat piece and you should definitely check it out!
“That Dark, Sweet Magic” by Travis Burnham (958 words)
Aww. This is another story that focuses squarely at a redemptive relationship. Where the last looked at a friendship, though, this one looks at a romantic relationship between John and Aine. John, who is alive. Aine, who has recently died. Like with the last story, the relationship is one where the narrator is the more passive partner. John is more serious, more “boring.” He works in data and spreadsheets and numbers, whereas Aine was magic itself, alive and in love with life. Now that she has died, her magic has dispersed but concentrated in the things that she loved. An apple tree. A shoe golem. Things that Aine loved. And John is on a sort of road trip to spread Aine’s ashes, a trip that he takes with these two new companions. It’s a piece that is steeped in a fair amount of tragedy and sadness, John left without the guiding light of his life, the person that he sees as having taken him from a boring existence to something approaching meaning. As his passengers argue about who got the most of Aine’s magic, John is left dreading the question of what comes next. Because while he can stay focused on doing this thing for Aine, he’s terrified of a future where he has to define himself, where he lacks the guidance of Aine’s magic and passion. The story is moving and slow, focusing on the uncertainty of John’s position and the beauty of what has left the world and also what has remained. John is faced with a future that is frightening, that seems overwhelming, but the story finds space for him to be able to move forward while still holding to the magic of Aine’s love and what she meant to him. It’s touching and tender and an excellent read!
“PLAIN JANE LEARNS TO KNIT WORMHOLES” by Wendy Nikel (766 words)
This story closes things out on a rather humorous note as a church knitting circle welcomes a new member who accidentally opens up a wormhole in space and time. The story does an excellent job of capturing a feel of this group of older church women in the Midwest, the way that they prioritize, the way that the organize. There is just a way that the story uses tone to show this rather judgmental, passive-aggressive bunch of people who are preoccupied with the Bible and yet completely okay making cutting remarks without compassion. And when the wormhole opens, it’s rather funny to see them argue and bicker over where to go, how to use it. There’s the sense that this is something huge—a great discovery or event—and they just sort of brush that aside and start arguing about the Bible and who’s right and who’s wrong and how stupid all the suggestions are. And, of course, trapped in that state of bickering they have to first form a sort of hierarchy, must maintain “proper” order, all the while the wormhole itself is made unstable by their treatment of it. And I just appreciate the way the story sets all of this up through the voice of the narrator, through the framing of a church bulletin, through the aftermath of what happened and how blame has been assessed in order to make sure that those “bad elements” are seen at fault while maintaining the veneer of moral superiority. And it is a rather funny piece, the situation absurd the women’s reaction to it hilarious. I like the way that no one tries to help Jane, or really do much of anything other than argue, and it’s just a fun piece that comes as something of a relief after the last two, which while hopeful and positive were still a bit heavy. This is much lighter, ending the issue with a laugh against the slowly declining light of the season, summer drawing toward autumn. A great read!