Short Stories 366:219 — “Bayou,” by Bryan Washington

coverAs a lover of speculative fiction, I think I maybe had less of a jolt reading this story from Lot: Stories than perhaps others might. Prior to this the stories have all been grounded in a very contemporary setting, but this tale opens with someone finding a dying chupacabra (which seems to have died by the time they find their friend to bring them back to it). Like the rest of the tales in the collection, the main character (and his friend who found the chupacabra) are on the edges: they’re very poor, and the reality of their discovery might possibly pay dividends, so… that’s the plan.

“Bayou” follows these two as they try to turn this admittedly grim find into something. One of them has a grandmother slipping Navy pamphlets under the door (subtle, no?) and the other is struggling as well, so it’s not like you don’t hope these two don’t figure out some way to come out ahead, but almost from the start they’re just so incredibly incapable, and empathy shifts to sympathy. They take something that they know in some vague way might offer them an exit strategy, and proceed to just mess it up in what feels like an inevitable way, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s more like it’s an… intimate thing? I honestly felt like I was watching two men do everything in their power not to admit how much they needed each other.

Ultimately, “Bayou” ends in a way I refuse to spoil but feels about as perfect as any I could imagine for the tale, and if nothing else, I’d love more people to read it for the destination alone. The journey is absolutely one worth taking, but that ending, man. That ending. Again, Washington’s prose is just full of such fantastic turns of phrases, and the setting and characters—Texas, brown and Black (and often queer) men—are so rarely seen in fantastical stories that “Bayou” shot straight up onto my list of favourites.

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