Short Stories 366:265 — “Vadija,” by Catherine Lundoff

coverIt’s sad to be at the end of Out of this World: Queer Speculative Fiction Stories, because it’s been such a wonderful companion and a highlight of my reading this year. But, as they say, “all good things…” And the collection ends with such a unique story, and with such a brilliant emotional tone for a final tale in a collection, so I had to know where it had come from. I asked Lundoff, and charmingly, this was the response:

I don’t really remember what inspired this one. I think I was reading some of Ursula Le Guin’s essays about fantasy and thinking about secondary characters and how few fantasy stories are about joy and looking for it, so this was the result.

From anyone else, “I don’t really remember” might have made me blink in incredulity, but it’s such a perfect comment on the story that I can’t help but forgive. Because, as Lundoff says, it’s about looking for joy, and the way it’s handled is just so very deft. We meet a woman who hears laughter on the wind and is changed. She begins to travel, spreading stories and joys of her own, using words she uncovers in the wind and in stories, and the reader gets the sense that she’s expanding the range of lore and joy as well as her own uplifted spirit, and it’s magical in this uniquely gentle, linguistic way. When she comes face-to-face with a place that is said to be cursed to know no joys, no words, and no laughter?

She tries anyway.

What follows is someone who carries joy via language and laughter and storytelling entering a place where those powers are actively diminished. She tries valiantly, but she can’t quite do it alone. Luckily, she doesn’t have to, and ultimately, despite this being a place cursed to not have those wonderful things she offers, it’s also not completely immune in all ways, and the story ends with this hopeful note about trying, about sharing stories and laughter and language, and at the end of a collection that did just that?

Well. It’s perfect, really.

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