Short Stories 366:155 — “The Husband Stitch,” by Carmen Maria Machado

coverHoly flying crap, this was incredible. Carmen Maria Machado opens Her Body and Other Parties with “The Husband Stitch,” with an unnamed narrator explaining she is a storyteller, and, early on in the tale, there’s a part where this young woman is exploring her sexuality without apology, clearly stating her demands, and the line—I listened to this on audio, so forgive me if I get a word or two wrong here—is something like, “I’ve heard all of the stories about girls like me and am unafraid to make more of them.” I scribbled it down on my phone, and by the end of the tale, that was the line I kept going back to.

There’s a sliver of something “other” running through this story, which is often broken up by instructions on how to read it aloud, and also small segues of intertextual mentions of other fairy tales or folk stories or urban myths. And there are the ribbons: the narrator wears one around her neck, tied at the back in a bow. Another woman has one around her foot. Another her finger. These ribbons exist, are mentioned, sometimes cause issues or frustrations or are central to moments of tension, but then the narrative flows onward. The unnamed woman with the neck ribbon marries a man she is truly drawn to and connected with, has a child she raises well, recovers from surgery, explores sensuality and sexuality, meets other women, tells stories—but never allows her husband to touch the ribbon, and never explains the ribbon.

The final moments of this story are flipping brilliant. The notion of someone wanting all of someone else, of not allowing even a sliver of silence or secret or the personal, is unfolded with such tension that I caught myself slowing my steps while I walked the dog, wanting to be still while I listened (he didn’t agree, and he pulled me onward, but I looped an extra time around the block to let the scene settle). This world, the narrator’s world, which was our world, with people so very recognizable in it, but, oh, also these ribbons, was so deft. I’m so glad a friend recommended this collection to me.

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