To avoid spoilers, read Gaynor's story in The Forge Literary Magazine: 'Amongst These Animals.'
Gaynor is a brave writer. And again she has shown this quality in her latest story: ‘Amongst These Animals.’ The title works hard, setting up the question of who the animals might be exactly. The behaviour of the man in the story, in the way he initiates sex, indicates this animalistic imagery early on: ‘She allows him to part her legs with his one good knee while he exhales ashy air onto her bare neck.’ The sparse, yet telling description conveys all we need to know without the point being laboured. What is noticeable though, is the protagonist’s passivity when she ‘allows him’ to do as he pleases. This passivity, or maybe surrender, is a theme used throughout the story.
The references to the tray, ‘still charred from last night’s meal,’ and to feeling as though she is in a swimming pool, ‘going under, bobbing back up for air,’ appear to move us to another time and place. But maybe these allude to the helplessness and desire to return to something else, something before the situation in which the protagonist finds herself.
The real power in this story though, lies in the central image of the protagonist with the lamb. The desire she has for a child is never made explicit, but is nevertheless always present. Clues such as, ‘her too-flat stomach,’ ‘frantic mother,’ and ‘still the mother watches,’ return us time and again to the hopelessness she feels in not having a child of her own.
The image of the protagonist with the lamb at her breast is shocking, and unforgettable; and because the story is so well executed, in a strange way, is also understandable, even logical. This moment is captured in a stark, uncomplicated manner, conveying the seemingly mundane nature of the act: ‘She goes in to their pen, unbuttons her blouse and picks up a lamb. She strokes it for a while, then holds it to her breast and grits herself as the mouth finds her nipple.’ That the lamb finds no milk only emphasises the absence of a child.
The sense of hopelessness is reinforced when the protagonist returns to the sink and attempts to clean the tray, to no avail. Her world continues in the same way, with little sign of it changing.
This is a memorable piece of flash that has stayed with me, and will continue to do so for some time to come.
Note to self: Look for an image that will stick in the reader's memory.
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