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Everything is Terrible but You Should Read This Story

Story by Amber Sparks (Read author interview) September 16, 2019

Art by Jolene Casko

This is a story born of need. It’s the story you need right now.

This is the story of a mother and a daughter in which the mother doesn’t disappear, doesn’t peace out, doesn’t die. This is a story where the mother stays.

It’s the story your mother told you when you were small, the one where Tiresias was struck blind when he saw his mother bathing with Athena; but the goddess instead granted him visions of the future. It’s the story where your mother whispered, “we’ll have such secrets together,” and you felt loved instead of frightened. It’s the story in which you were proud of the stories your mother told you. In which you never begged your mother to please just tell you the same goddamn fairy tales that every other kid’s mother told them. It’s the story where your mother became a classicist because she was fascinated by mythology, and not because the story of Philomela resonated with her so deeply. In this story, your mother never lost her tongue.

It’s the story in which, in the 10th grade, when you asked your boyfriend, “Do you think I’m odd,” instead of his laughing and saying no, putting out the long white flame of strangeness you’d kept protected since you were old enough to understand yourself—instead he said yes; in this story he said “yes, yes you are odd” and the flame whooshed up and burned your old life quick and clean as paper and left you new, shining, phoenix-feathered.

It’s the story where your parents divorced when you were little, not a teenager, and when you asked your mother, “What are you thinking of,” she didn’t saying “dying,” no in this story she said “flying,” and in this story she told you how wings work. In this story Icarus sealed his wings with something stronger than wax and he sailed right up into the sun until Apollo plucked him out and praised him. Here, Apollo is the good father Icarus never had.

In this story, red means nothing. In this story, rope is for climbing, not falling. Here there are no signifiers, no associations, as if everything were happening for the first time. As if sensations were like the closed cells of monks and gardenia perfume didn’t smell like anything but gardenias.

It’s not that there is no sadness in this story. Stories need conflict, and crying can be dreamy. But sadness, like ships, must be steered, and this story doesn’t come from a need for catharsis. There are no iced-over ponds, no wooden wheels stuck in the metaphorical mud. There are no bodies hanging from a ceiling fan.

This story doesn’t turn into a horror movie when people tell you you’re just like your mother.

In this story, the secret staircase to Hades is in your bedroom closet and you can descend whenever you like, as many times as you need, to keep on saving your mother. In this story you take a sack of barley bread soaked in honey for Cerberus, just like she taught you; you bring her back, again and again. You give her time for her hair to go from indigo to white, you skirt the hangman’s knot.

In this story, everyone is safe. This story comes with a guarantee of safety.

In this story, you aren’t afraid to have children.

In this story, when women are attacked, they grow armor like a sudden carapace. They grow an extra tongue, so they can sound their attacker’s name forever while also singing karaoke, while talking to friends, while eating pizza at a restaurant they are not afraid to walk home from. This is a story where women are alone all the time, at bars and on hiking trails and in quiet suburban neighborhoods and on chattering city streets, and nobody dreams of fucking with them because so many women have extra tongues these days. This is a story where bad men reap what they have sown.

In this story, someone else is President.

In this story, nobody drops inside themselves and drowns after their boyfriend rapes them. In this story, nobody finds out, returning home for comfort, that their mother, too, was once raped.

In fact, in this story there is no rape. We all need a story without rape right now.

In this story, there is no such thing as social media. Just kidding; this story can only fix so much and the rest is up to you, you and your followers and especially the ones you call friends. (In this story, the dreadful people are all banned for life, though.)

In this story there are: colorful birds, warm milk, candy hearts, strange cats, good dogs, stars, friends, moon landings, mothers, wildflowers, video games, and kindness. It’s an old-fashioned story, this one; kindness flows through it like a lazy river, rafted by every character. It nourishes everyone. It’s a slow story, the kind of slowness that allows the reader to settle in, to eat well, to be unafraid, to learn what kind of story this will be over time.

This is a story where your mother still tucks you in at night. Metaphorically or literally, your choice.

There are no weapons in this story. There might be razors, yes, but only the sort you need to cut out the bad parts and leave the good bits, the bits that will save your life.

About the Author

Amber Sparks is the author of The Unfinished World and Other Stories as well as And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories & Other Revenges. Her short fiction and essays appear all over the internet and in a few print publications, too. She’s at @ambernoelle in internet life, and in Washington, DC, IRL.

About the Artist

Jolene Casko is a digital collage artist from Pennsylvania. She has been doing freelance art & design since 2015. You can find more of her art on instagram: @jolenecasko

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Five

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