The Story Behind the Story: "Belinda"
If you know my fiction, you know that I tend to bring a lot of personal baggage along for the ride, and my newest story, "Now Watch as Belinda Unmakes the World," which appears in the May, 2016 issue of Flash Fiction Online, is no different. While I haven't personally experienced the tragedy of losing a child, I am a mother, and I think every parent knows the anger and pain of having their child in a situation where they just can't help them: whether injury, illness, or something else. As parents, we are deeply invested in the idea that we are here to protect our kids; to shield them from all the evil shit we know is out there in the world. And while I try very hard not to hover over my children, I know where the impulse originates.
How much more horrible then, when a child dies. I still remember the look in my father's eyes when, at age 77, he attended the funeral of my brother, who'd died at 52 from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig's disease). "A parent should never have to bury a child," he said to me through his tears. "That's not the way it's supposed to be." I can only imagine the pain he felt, a pain which must be multiplied when one's child is still young enough to look to their parents for comfort, and for safety, and for protection. This is the pain Belinda is feeling: the raw, restless anger that comes from knowing you had within you the power to give this human life, but that you are helpless to protect it from the devastation of random annihilation.
Another theme I've been exploring in the last year or so is the idea of sitting vigil at a deathbed. Most of this comes from my sister, who took care of my mother in her last months, and recently did the same for another family member diagnosed with terminal cancer. She's told me the stories of what it was like; how she felt it was her duty to let the dying person feel comfort in knowing that they were not alone there, at the end. I guess in my mind she's taken on something of the aspect of a psychopomp, somewhat otherworldly in her emotional capacity and the generosity of spirit required to perform this so-sacred of duties. I wrote a poem, called "The Vigilant" (upcoming in a future issue of Not One of Us), about her, but some of the emotions she described to me wound up in "Belinda" as well.
From beginning to end, "Now Watch as Belinda Unmakes the World" was a hard piece to write. It left me wrung out and angry, hurt, and sad all at the same time.
But that's kind of what makes it worth it though, you know?