Friday, December 18, 2015

Tears from the Sky

by Jean Roberta

Bodies, human and animal, exude body fluids. Do sweat glands “cry” when the temperature goes up? Do women’s pussies really “cry” or "weep" when they’re hungry? (They’ve been described this way, but that seems like a stretch to me.) Do clouds “cry” rain?

Here is the opening paragraph in a story, “Tears of the Gods” by Sarah L. Byrne, that I chose from a pile of excellent stories to include in Heiresses of Russ: The Year’s Best Lesbian Speculative Fiction:*

“Legend has it that the blue rain was the tears of the gods, though just why gods would weep in blue no one could quite explain. Modern science said the odd meteorological phenomenon was simply a matter of copper sulphate, spores from the blue copper-feeding algae in the deep vents forced into the atmosphere by volcanic activity. Gita knew differently.”

Of course she did. And of course, since this story is closer to sci-fi than to fantasy, there is both a scientific and a metaphorical explanation for rain as tears. Gita has accepted an assignment to a desert outpost on an out-of-the-way planet where she is exposed to rain that blisters her skin, even though this was not a “career-boosting move.” Gita is grieving for her former research partner, who was also her life-partner.

Everyone who studies literature learns to avoid the “pathetic fallacy:” using weather to represent the emotions of major characters. Most writers do this anyway, because it’s just so tempting. (I think it’s unfair to single out the famous nineteenth-century sentence by Edward Bulwer-Lytton that starts: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Victorian writers who wrote like this had a lot of company, and still do.)

This week, snow finally fell on my town in Saskatchewan so that it looks picturesque for the holidays. Before that, the weather had been so unseasonably warm (apparently due to a worldwide natural phenomenon called “El Nino”) that many were predicting a “brown Christmas” of bare ground.

Drifting snow, consisting of beautifully individual snowflakes dancing on the breeze, is not usually associated with tears. Au contraire. The first snowfall is usually seen as a blessing or a sparkling blanket to cover the litter, dog poop and decaying vegetation that lingers on the ground in winter.

Just as the snow seemed like a magical surprise, I got an unexpected letter in the mail from the local law firm that handled my late parents’ will. As one of the heirs, I am entitled to an equal share of the next “disbursement:” more money from a large pot that has been subject to mysterious (to me) accounting practises. (One of the factors that makes this complicated is that there are four heirs, three in Canada where inheritance is not taxed, and an executor in the U.S., where inheritance is taxed by the federal government, and possibly by the relevant state government, as a smaller version of Uncle Sam.)

My parents passed away within six months of each other in 2009. As far as I remember, I didn’t cry over either death. Both my parents had been in failing health in a nursing home for a few years before the end. In 2010, I received a fairly large amount from their estate, and I was grateful.

When each parent left this world, I had a sense of relief that was at least as complicated as the process of sorting out the money they no longer needed. Yes! I thought. They are no longer in pain, and that’s a good thing. I honestly hoped they had gone on to a better place, and I still hope they are around in some form, and at peace. Their ashes rest in an outdoor vault in a cemetery. I rarely go to visit them there because I don’t think they are more likely to hover over their physical remains than to hang about in their former house, or in other places they loved when they were alive (e.g. the local Unitarian Centre, the large park in the middle of town).

To be honest, I was also relieved when each of them passed away because this meant they could no longer confide in everyone they knew that I was “mentally ill,” and that they hoped I would find a second husband to take care of me.

I can forgive them for everything they did that hurt me, on grounds that they—like other parents—were probably raising children as well as they knew how. They got it right more often than they got it wrong. However, I can’t forget certain frustrating disagreements over the nature of reality, when I would report something that had really happened to me, and one of my parents would respond, “Honey, I’m sure that’s not true.”

One of my father’s staunch beliefs, which my mother “went along with” (as wives accepted so much in her generation) was that all stories of supernatural events were bogus, the products of mental illness or deliberate fraud. If my parents are now disembodied spirits who could contact me if they chose to, would they choose to?

I can’t help thinking of the unexpected promise of money as a Christmas present from the Beyond. I’m tempted to tell a photo of my parents, “Really, you didn’t have to. You’ve already been incredibly generous.”

The letter made my eyes sting, but I couldn’t cry. It’s a mysterious process, crying. Maybe the questions of who owes what to whom else need to be sorted out further before my tears can flow as naturally as rain or snow. Time will tell.
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*Heiresses of Russ was co-edited by Jean Roberta and Steve Berman, published by Lethe Press (December 2015). All the stories in it were first published in 2014.

7 comments:

  1. Ah! I didn't realize you EDITED Heiress of Russ! That's fantastic.

    As is this post, by the way. I like the notion of people who staunchly deny the existence of the paranormal discovering that there is indeed a non-corporeal aspect to existence.

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  2. I like that notion too, Lisabet, though I sometimes wonder if there is a dash of spite in my hope that my dad is still conscious in some form, and having to admit that he was wrong.

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  3. It's really interesting to think about how snow would play in a pathetic fallacy. My gut tells me it's often used to represent redemption and grace because of the way it covers over the usual features of the world.

    I relate to the complicated feelings you express about the death of parents. I miss my Dad, and recently missed him keenly while Christmas shopping and remembering there was no need to buy anything for him. On the other hand, I don't miss the complicated balancing act involved with going anywhere in public with him, worrying about what would happen with his temper, etc.

    That "honey, I'm sure that's not true" thing sounds totally crazy-making. I'm sorry they did that, and I'm glad you're free of it.

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  4. i suppose that if your father discovered that there was indeed a post-corporeal existence, that would just mean that such a thing wasn't supernatural after all, so he could still maintain his disbelief. Belief isn't necessarily based on objective factors; when your parents didn't believe you it may have been because it would have been outside their comfort zone to do so. Comfort zones can be destructive.

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  5. Thanks for commenting, Annabeth and Sacchi. I suspect the "Honey, I'm sure that's not true" thing was popular with a certain generation of parents, based on the notion that parents can control their children's perception of reality to screen out everything "bad" (monsters in nightmares, bullies on playgrounds, teachers who favour certain students, boys with a joking contempt for girls, cultural differences). It was definitely crazy-making! One of the earliest fears I remember is the fear of possibly going insane -- and when I was 6 or 7, I thought this meant my parents would take me to some grim institution where I would be locked up with raving, screaming adults. My way of trying to cope was to write things down as clearly and objectively as my vocabulary allowed. This turned out to be a useful strategy. My lingering fear is that if my parents appeared in some form to give me a message (via human psychic or ouija board), the message would be: "Honey, we love you, but you're wrong." My response would be: "Mom and Dad, I love you too, but don't worry about it, and go to the light."

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  6. During my teen years, I quit trying to explain my self to my parents. No chance of it hitting a chord for them. They were earthbound, though not by their fault. They had difficulties that shaped their formative years during the Great depression and WWII. They had their bellies to worry about. People who were considered 'Different' or 'out of their' minds in those times were sent to horrible places. Perhaps we've come along in some small ways.

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