Sometimes you bump into a short fiction piece that is just so freaking incredible you lean back once you’re done and just sit. You let the words settle and just feel it all in your head and think, ‘Well, good game, good game. Everyone else can go home now.’ Such was my experience with “Who Will Greet You at Home,” from What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky. I don’t even know where to begin to explain the set-up of this story, but my terrible attempt is this: we are in a world where mothers craft daughters out of material—any material, sticks, mud, porcelain—and life of a sort is breathed into the baby via a blessing from a mother, which must then be cared for for an entire year before it transforms into flesh.
We meet a young woman who was made from mud and clay, and her desire to do better by her own potential baby has her seeking out alternate materials, and her mother’s rejections of considerations such as prettiness or softness in favour of, well, mud and clay and other strong things. Their relationship doesn’t survive the mother’s continual destruction of the daughter’s attempts, and so the daughter leaves, determined to find another way and another baby.
What follows is one of the most chilling, moving and—at times—borderline horrifically disturbing—stories as the daughter finds a place to eke out a living, gains the blessing of a grasping, coldly calculating “maman” at a terrible price, and ultimately decides to do something taboo: she uses the castoff hair from the hair salon where she works to make a baby, hiding it from everyone. The chilling progression of this narrative is so freaking incredible, the ending is sublime, and honestly, from a world-building point of view, this story was a goddamn masterclass. I’ve already said you should read this collection a few times already, but this story? This story alone is reason enough to buy a copy.