Sunday Shorts—Madeleine by Amal El-Mohtar

coverWhen I originally listened to the Queers Destroy Science Fiction anthology, it was in the midst of winter, and I have to admit the overall tone of the stories as a whole is often only darkly triumphant (if they’re triumphant at all). That’s not surprising, given the times we live in, but by mid-winter, I started to get a bit worn down by the stories in the collection, when tale after tale was predicated on so much queer suffering or where the solution was often “settling” for a lesser evil of some sort, or what scant freedoms might be offered.

“Madeleine” from El-Mohtar gave me the slightly happier conclusion I needed to keep going in the collection, much like Yang’s “Plant Children.”

That isn’t to say “Madeleine” is a cheerful story. It’s not. It’s about a woman who has lost her mother to Alzheimer’s, and who had taken part in some sort of trial for a new treatment, and who is now the only person in that trial to be showing strange symptoms: sometimes, she’s falling into remembering her own past so vividly she’s completely unaware of what’s going on around her. It might very well be dangerous if it happens at the wrong time.

Her therapist wants her to come up with a coping strategy that minimizes the danger, but when she starts to see a young girl in her memories who she has never before met, she starts to realize there’s more to this than meets the eye, and that it may very well be the drug trial after all, and she embarks on a plan to solve the mystery of just who this person is intruding on her memories.

The conclusion—while, again, not super-cheerful exactly—was just what I needed after stories of queer people not finding a place to exist, having to retreat to exist, or suffering from PTSD: a hopeful start, a connection, and a hand reaching out to lift someone else up.

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