There are forty-two short stories in my new collection, So We Can Glow, and one of them called “You Should Love the Right Things” is only two sentences long, because two sentences was all I needed to tell that particular story. There are longer stories, some that have far more sentences—some spanning twelve or fourteen pages—because I believe a story should be just as long as it needs to be. In a world of oversharing and constant updates, writing short stories feels a bit rebellious and subversive. I’ve always been drawn to short fiction because I love miniatures—something big made small, an entire world shrunken down. Pulsing passion trapped in a glass bottle, steaming up? It interests me. And I enjoy seeing how small I can go, while still telling a complete story.
In So We Can Glow, there is a story told via a hotel receipt, one told via recipe. There’s the first act of a play and a tale told over text messages, too. There’s another consisting only of back-and-forth emails between a mother and her daughter. There are two stories told from first person plural, a collective we. There are others told from second person, as well as the more often seen first and third. I did a bit of everything here because I wanted to experiment not only with what made up a story, but with what shape can a story take? Can a story fade away like a song? Often called flash fiction, short-short stories really do feel like flashes of light. Flickers, in the best way. Can a story hang in the air like smoke? There is one in this collection called “All That Smoke Howling Blue” that, in my opinion, does just that.
I love the idea of someone picking up a collection and reading a few while waiting for the pasta water to boil, or reading a single story sitting in the carpool line. To me, short stories are like tiny capsules of human emotion and desire that we can pop into our brains when we need them or even just in case we need them. If you are one of those people who think short stories aren’t for you, I gently challenge you to keep searching until you find The One. The One you can’t get out of your mind, The One that makes you cry or laugh or think or wonder and hopefully all of those things! The One with characters so alive in that short, small space that you can hear them breathing. In So We Can Glow I gift you forty-two—sometimes linked—stories about women and mothers and girls and lust and life across Kentucky and the South and sunny California, too. There is grief and comic relief. There are terrible decisions and sometimes decent ones. And marriages both happy and unhappy, alongside cowboys, obsessiveness, and the families we make together. Most importantly: So We Can Glow is about how it’s good for all of us as little flawed creatures on this earth to try our best to keep our heart lights on, so when we get lost in the dark, we can be easily found.
“We, Moons” is the first story in this collection. It is a call to worship, it is a call to arms. Let’s glow.
e’re not depressed all the time, some of us aren’t even depressed sometimes. We’re okay, our hearts, dusted with pink. When we cry in bathrooms together it’s about men or our mothers or our fa- thers or our bodies. We are resilient, none of us have attempted suicide, although we do at times imagine what it would be like to have never been born. Is that sadness? Is that regret? We love men. We are ashamed of this attraction. We, the ones who aren’t lesbians or asexual, wish we were; we fantasize about lesbian communes or asexual communes. We take the curse of Genesis 3:16 to heart. Isn’t it a curse to want a man? Didn’t God intend that after the fall? We feel cursed. We are Eve. We develop crushes on men we’ll never meet, men in magazines. We prefer our men to remain onscreen where they cannot hurt us. We, protected by those alien-beams of light, that space glass. We envision those men down on their knees before us, looking up at us, smiling. We pat their heads and call them good boys. We use them. We crave and desire them. We leave them whether they want us to or not. We wear their clothes because they smell like them and we let the sleeves hang long past our wrists. We swear to one another we won’t call or text them dur- ing our Girls’ Weekend. We try to keep our word. We try really hard. They call us, they text us, they send us pictures of the flowers they’d have delivered to us if only they knew where we were. We are in the mountains or on the beach or at a grandmother’s home; the grandmother has passed and left it to us, left us her journals and her cake recipes, left us the blankets and sweaters she knit, the quilts and tea-stained books she read when she was young like us. We are not young, but we are younger than our grandmothers. We are young enough to still have our periods. We bleed together when the moons are death-darked and new, ovulate under the full ones. Their fierce, primal, ancient names connect us to the women who came before and all those who will come after: wolf, snow, worm, pink, flower, strawberry, buck, sturgeon, harvest, hunter’s, beaver, cold. If we had been in charge of naming the moons, we wouldn’t have changed a thing. Some of us are mothers, some of us have miscarried, some of us have no desire to bear children in our dark and starry wombs. Where do we go for emotional res- cue? Where do we go to feel safe? Where do we go to escape the men who would rape and murder us, the men who would kidnap us, the men who would torture us, the men who would, the men who, the men. We are complete without them but we want them anyway. We love them but we want to hide from them. We drink champagne and wine and whiskies and stay up too late smoking. We eat dark chocolate brownies and coconut cakes and wake up and fry eggs with butter and chilies. We lock our doors at night and keep our secrets. We howl at the moon and paint our toenails with glitter and make promises, free before we leave. We return to our homes and our children and our jobs. We return to those men, the ones who keep us, the ones we are afraid of, the ones who would never harm us, the ones who protect us. We know they desire us, they are cursed with wanting to be inside of us. We are wild and cannot be tamed. They are cursed with wanting to tame us. They want us to be witches so they can burn us. They burn with lust for us. We use our own lust-flames to fuel us and keep us warm. We are better at this than they are. We read and write our books, sing our songs, scream our screams, and fall easily into the arms of a God who loves us. We fight a God who loves us. We beg for forgiveness for we know not what we do. We know what we are doing. We run away and want to be found. We want to disap- pear. We want to be seen. We search our breasts for lumps so our breasts won’t kill us, our cervices for tumors. We scan our bodies for poison, never knowing. We feed our babies with these bodies and offer our bodies to the men we desire and the men take and take and take and we give and give and give. We are handmaidens and helpmeets and neither of those things. We are created in the image of a God who can be both man or woman or neither. No empty vessels; we are achingly full, spilling over. And when we die, our souls pour out like water.
Excerpted from the book So We Can Glow: Stories by Leesa Cross-Smith. Copyright © 2020 by Leesa Cross-Smith. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
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