The PdS Black Voices Series Presents: DONALD QUIST

TWIN PILGRIMS

E – 120 seconds and counting

 

A few hundred seconds before the next giant leap for mankind, Livy comes home weary from Sacramento. You try to ignore the heavy thud of Livy’s duffle-bag on the rug in the front hallway, Livy’s slogging steps to the kitchen, the creak and slam of the refrigerator door, and Livy’s grumbling about a stench invading the house.

So much noise.

You don’t need to ask if Livy and her former fiancé reconciled over the weekend. They didn’t. You know this, not because you and Livy share an intuitive bond like some other twins, but because you still have enough reason to recognize the only solution to the couple’s separation.

But Livy won’t leave Plymouth, because she can’t leave you.

Livy clamors the dirty cast iron pots abandoned in the sink two nights earlier, remnants of your failed attempts to recreate Mom’s sweet plantain with spicy spinach stew.

Livy exhales loudly before entering the living room. She finds you. You’ve curled on the couch in a fetal position. Livy doesn’t ask why you didn’t pick her up from the airport. If she did ask, you would motion to the smartphone in your hands and remind Livy of the occasion—the crew of the Harbinger 1 had scheduled to land three hours ago. You would have had plenty of time to drive to the airport to collect Livy. The unpredictability of space travel is not your fault.

On the four-inch screen, pink sand begins to swirl beneath the blast of thrusters. Livy pushes your feet off the cushions and sits down. She sniffs the air. “Something’s funky in here, Geri.” The legs of the landing module unfold from the bottom of the carriage. “How long have those pots been sitting in the sink?” The spaceship sinks towards a shallow red basin. “Geri, where is Pocky? Did you leave him outside? Deoiridh?”

You shush Livy. 

So much noise. 

Livy rises from the sofa. “Geri, where is my dog?”

 

 

 

E – 90 seconds and counting.

 

I hear panic grip Livy’s throat. 

Pocky had originally belonged to you. You got him shortly after learning Mom had Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Because you didn’t have the same obligations as other siblings—no mortgage or children—you volunteered to move back to Plymouth to help Livy care for Mom. Livy suggested an affordable hospice but you refuted the idea. To demonstrate your commitment to staying, you adopted a three-month old puppy, a small brown mutt, part poodle and Chihuahua, from the Plymouth animal shelter.

I wanted to make it work. I thought it could be a new beginning for mom and me. 

Be honest with yourself. Your concern for Mom was not the impetus for your return home.  You had lost your job teaching primary school children in India.

I didn’t lose anything. I had written a few letters to the administration of the English language center, offering suggestions on how they could improve, and soon after, they fired me for repeated dress code infractions and student complaints. They had obviously been looking for a reason to get rid of me for months.

Without the school sponsoring your visa, and no other work opportunities immediately available, you decided it might be a good time to finally return home. You rationalized the move back as an opportunity to start a new chapter in the place your story began. You had viewed caring for Mom as a kind of penance for the years you had been gone.

After coming back to Plymouth, Livy recommended you for a page position at the local college library where she served as a circulation coordinator.

You didn’t work well with most of your coworkers.

My supervisor—Eric or Derrick something—was unbearable, one of those people who yammer on about how much they like to read but can only list big names in contemporary American pop fiction. He’d recount these trite plotlines whenever we worked the circulation desk together, and I couldn’t feign interest. 

Don’t glance over your own faults. Your tardiness became an issue.

I had trusted Livy to wake me up. I have trouble rising on my own. When I was still living in India, I had to pay neighborhood kids in Chennai to shout outside my window in the morning.  

You had only worked at the library for three months before your were fired for two absences in one week.

I’m only surprised Derrick or Eric hadn’t done it sooner. Even when I did show up I spent most of my time hiding among the stacks, rereading Hughes, Baldwin and Wright. I caught up on Sebald, Gombrowicz, Goethe and Plenzdorf, and some other recommendations I had overheard a group of Berlin street artists discussing during my stay at a hostel in Nairobi. 

Sometimes, I’d abandon shelving books and sneak to a secluded study carrel to watch online livestreams from the International Space Exploration Coordination Group’s simulation outposts in New Mexico and Antarctica. Of those twenty-four candidates chosen for the trials to see who would be among the first human settlers on Mars, three had been selected from open applicants. I wasn’t one of them. I had applied two years earlier but never received a response. 

Whenever you experience a significant rejection, you recall your failure to become an astronaut. At the time you applied you were your best self, physically and mentally. You had found a healthy balance between diet, exercise and Lexapro. You had completed the Queenstown International Marathon and an equally grueling Vipassana retreat in Myanmar, which involved ten days of monastic living, meditation and embracing a silence you thought helped prepare you for the quiet void of space.

Instead of clearing out your cubby at the library and saying goodbye to your coworkers, you took a long walk through downtown Plymouth and pondered reasons the International Space Exploration Coordination Group (ISECG) might have overlooked you. While considering what the scientists and recruiters must have seen or not seen in your application, you noticed your reflection in a shop window.

Earlier that morning, you had wrapped your hair in one of Mom’s Kente cloth headscarves, and you didn’t realize how much the orange clashed with your bright green skinny jeans. A line of dry toothpaste at the side of your mouth showed that in your rush to get to the library an hour late, you had forgotten to wipe your face after brushing your teeth.

You had left the top buttons of your sky-blue blouse unclasped. You ran a finger across your prominent collarbones and you thought, I’m getting so fat here, pie-for-breakfast-fat, cake-on-the-nightstand-fat.

You sighed. You didn’t feel ready to return home to have to listen to Mom’s crying, Livy’s lecturing and Pocky’s incessant yapping. So much noise. You searched for a place to sit and think. You saw a vacant wrought iron bench outside the only coffee shop in town. You sat and watched the cars pass through the intersection of Fourth and Main. You frowned at the succession of sports utility vehicles and minivans. You scoffed at the sincerity of the bumper stickers and the window decals of stick figure families—stick men, stick women and children and dogs and cats, signaling to other drivers that a more fulfilled person steers this vehicle.

You looked up and thanked the universe for making you the kind of person whose spirituality, whit, and politics extend glossy vinyl clichés daring other motorists to disagree.

You thought, What am I doing here? 

While sitting on that bench I remembered a conversation with Livy the day I arrived from India to move in with Mom.

Livy and I had been standing in front of that same coffee shop. 

Livy inhaled deeply and said, “I love this café.”

I smiled and said, Yes, if you squint hard enough you can almost imagine you’re somewhere else.

Livy didn’t laugh. She stared at me curiously, parsing what I had said. 

Taking a sip from my own cup, I swallowed the botched espresso along with my desire to complain to the barista about how the drink smelled and tasted like burnt paper. 

Livy continued, “I’m so glad to see you again. I can’t believe you’ve finally come home.”

Neither can I, I said.

“I know Plymouth might not be as noteworthy as some of the places you’ve lived, Geri, but it’s growing and changing. Maybe you’ve been called home to do something meaningful here.”

Livy’s saccharine tone nearly caused me to choke on my bitter coffee. 

I told her, my only priority is taking care of Mom. 

Livy changed the subject. “I think we’ll be hiring soon at the library, if you’re interested.”

Sure, anything works for now, I said. 

“And what do you hope to find?”

Like I said, anything. 

“Right,” Livy turned away and appeared to nod knowingly at something only she could see. She said, “Geri, in all this time you’ve been out searching the world, did you ever find yourself?”

I scanned the hot black water in my coffee cup for a possible answer to Livy’s question.

Deoiridh, if you don’t know what to do, you don’t have to figure things out alone.”

Then the bells of the Baptist church two blocks away began to chime, indicating the arrival of a new hour, punctuating the end of Livy’s sentence and preempting my response.

You rose from the bench outside the coffee shop.

You headed home, still thinking again about Livy’s words.

I walked around town for hours trying to decide if I could ever find what I want. When I finally returned home, Livy was waiting for me inside, having dinner with Mom. Together they had prepared my favorite meal, sweet plantain and spinach stew—I had never taken the time to learn how to make it myself. Pocky was perched on Livy’s knees, poking his snout over the edge of the kitchen dining table, yowling endlessly for food. Mom belly-laughed at Pocky’s persistence. 

You remember what you felt at that moment, looking over the joyful scene?

Jealousy, at Mom and Livy for enjoying themselves so much without me.

And then anger?

Anger because I couldn’t understand why I should even care.

Livy asked if I was hungry and I said no. 

She said she had taken Pocky for a walk and given him a bath.

I thanked her. 

Later, Mom got tired and had to lie down. She took Pocky to bed with her. Soon we heard Mom’s wheezing snores, and then Livy began to scold me. She spoke firmly and calm, the same tone I’d heard her employ at the library whenever she had to tell a patron that they had accrued late charges or that they wouldn’t be able to graduate if the missing books they’d borrowed were not returned or replaced. 

Livy said I needed to be more responsible and think about how my actions affect others. She said it was unfair of me to put her in a position where she must apologize for my behavior. It would be hard enough to care for Mom, Livy couldn’t look after me too. 

I agreed. 

I apologized to Livy, and when she went to use the bathroom before the drive back to her fiancé’s apartment, I stole a credit card from her wallet. That evening I searched online for nations with a low cost of living that do not require a tourist visa before entering, and then I booked the cheapest flight I could find to Thailand. 

When I landed in Bangkok, I caught a commuter van and then took a ferry to one of the less popular islands. 

Days passed, before I located a tiny Internet café with a single computer. 

I emailed Livy. 

I wrote, TAKE CARE OF POCKY FOR ME, and clicked send. 

 

 

 

E – 60 seconds and counting 

 

Livy exits the rear patio door to search the yard.

She calls for Pocky with nervous shouts.

You want to demand for her silence. You want the world to stop in reverence of this moment. You don’t understand how anyone could be concerned about locating a dog while humanity pushes its boundaries into the heavens.

Few people share your obsession with the Harbinger 1 mission. You’ve been disappointed with the lack of media coverage, and surprised you don’t overhear people speaking about the colonization of Mars whenever you feel brave enough to venture outside of Mom’s house. But you realize most folks tend to focus on what they already know, what affects them directly.

The majority of people are content living predictable lives and have little interest in something that might disrupt the certainty they’ve cultivated. 

Livy is the same way. 

If I had to describe her with a single word—reliable. And, she has always been more practical than me. As a kid she would turn her side of the bedroom into a pretend veterinarian office, and I would transform our closet into a rocket ship. I’d imagine flying through space to discover a world where I’d finally feel less alien. In middle school, I’d spend hours reading about ISECG’s terraforming orbiter, Gardner 1. Livy became interested in homemaking. I learned everything I could about how Gardner 1’s seed probes would provide sustainable food sources for future men and women on Mars. Mom taught Livy how to cook and sew.

Mom and Livy shared a preference for the concrete. 

I guess I’m more like Dad. 

Mom would talk a lot about Dad. Livy and I never got to know him, he died in a car crash in Nairobi just a few weeks before we were born. He had been traveling through rural areas of Kenya collecting data on how family factors affect mental health of children and the potential for curbing HIV/AIDS using these observations on family dynamics. 

Dad met Mom doing similar research in Ghana. She was a university student from Accra, she volunteered for the project to receive school credit. They fell in love and Mom returned with Dad, a Dutchmen, to the Netherlands. Not long after came my big sister Joyce. My brothers Joel, Kristopher and David followed. My older siblings had all reached their early twenties before Dad accepted a tenure-track position teaching African Studies at a small liberal arts college in Ohio. And then Livy and I came along. Mom called us, the last great surprise Dad ever gave her.

Growing up in Plymouth you’d often ask Mom what spurred Dad to move from a global city like Amsterdam to a little boring town.

And Mom would say, “As a girl in Accra, somewhere else, like Europe or America, always seemed better and more fascinating. But eventually I realized a place is only as boring as I choose to see it.”

You disagreed vehemently. Plymouth’s lack of excitement had to be objective. You intended to travel the world like Dad as soon as you became old enough. After high school you made plans to spend a year in the Netherlands living with your older siblings.

Livy stayed in Plymouth and enrolled at the college.

Five years had passed before you and Livy saw each other again in person.

Your sister Joyce had asked if you wanted to accompany her and your nephews to Plymouth for Christmas. Uncomfortable pauses, prolonged silences and passive aggressive snipes, plagued the holiday as the four of you struggled to contain past grievances and reacquaint yourselves with one another. The gift Mom gave to you on Christmas Day embodied her sentiments about your absence—an expensive fountain pen with a card that read, “Write Home More, My Little Pilgrim. – Mom”

You and Livy barely spoke, limiting your conversations to pleasant observations about the food and decorations. The two of you had always had differences, but the physical and emotional distance from your time overseas had become a chasm neither of you cared enough to bridge.

I was glad to return to Holland, but even the Netherlands grew repetitive after awhile. 

When Europe began to remind you of Plymouth, you looked for somewhere more exciting. You traveled through East Africa before moving on to East Asia. In every country you made sure to leave the capital cities. You’d hike into the mountains, or climb down to the plains. You’d stare out over the grasslands, bays and oceans, waiting to feel something unexpected. But all you ever felt looking out over all that majesty is emptiness, and you’d think of Mom and Livy and wonder if anything or anyone could make you feel tied to Earth.

After over a decade and two-dozen nations, I found myself increasingly disappointed by how often the rural parts of the developing world looked the same—the same fields, the same shacks, the same gutters, grime, dirt and ditches.

When you ran out of money but couldn’t stand to return home to Mom, you found schools eager to hire native English speakers to teach in India. You discovered having light skin and European features caused many employers to mistake you for a tanned white woman, and you quickly learned that by not correcting them you could earn more money than the majority of your darker-skinned colleagues, even despite most of them having higher qualifications. You started straightening your hair regularly, you replaced your glasses with green contact lenses and began omitting certain aspects of your identity. You changed your name to Geri, fretting that foreign employers might mistake the Gaelic name Mom and Dad gave you, Deoiridh, as something other than white.

 

 

 

E – 30 seconds and counting 

 

The landing module shudders violently. Your stomach churns. Livy enters the house again through the front door as the crew of the Harbinger 1 approaches the final meters of their descent.

“I can’t find him outside. Geri, where is Pocky!”

You remember.

Pocky would not stop barking while Livy was away in Sacramento. His high-pitched yowl reminded you of the strident whistle blasts on your last train ride from Bengaluru to Chennai.

I had spent half a day confined to my first-class sleeper cabin, and whenever I tried to rest the whistle came blaring through my dreams to startle me awake.

The chirps from your smartphone seemed to make Pocky yelp even louder. Perhaps

Pocky knew it was Livy calling. Livy’s the only one who calls you now, the only name listed in your contacts.

Your voice cracked as you said, H-hello?

“Geri, are you just waking up? It’s 10 am.”

No. You cleared your throat and told Livy you had just returned from a run.

In the short silence that followed, you knew Livy considered the truth, fact-checking against a mental index of your past transgressions.

Who you are remains in conflict . . . with whom I think I ought to be.

“Geri, do you think you are in a position to sleep in? Don’t you think there is something more constructive you could be doing?”

I thought taking care of my health was constructive.

Livy sighs. “Right, right.”

You told Livy you sent some job applications to Columbus and Cleveland before she left.

“Really?”

You told Livy there had been a few nibbles and that you had thought of doing some freelance translations to earn some quick cash.

“What is a nibble?”

You lied and said there were some promising developments.

Livy’s voice perked.

“That’s good, Geri! Soon you’ll be back on your own again . . . Did you get a chance to look at that split level I showed you? The one with the portico?”

I walked past.

“And?”

It was okay.

“Just okay? I thought it might be the perfect size for you.”

I don’t know.

“I’ve been talking to a realtor and she thinks we could get a pretty great price on Mom’s house. You would get enough from the sale to make a down payment on your own place, and probably have enough left over to buy a decent used car. Of course, you wouldn’t have to start paying me back for the credit card and flying you home from China until you had a steady job. And you can take your time repaying me for the hospital bills in Shanghai. No hurry.”

Thanks.

“You know, Paul and I really could use the funds from selling the house. It could really help us to get our lives together out here in Cali.”

I suppose so.

“Think about it and we’ll talk when I get back, alright?”

Yeah. We’ll talk.

“I should be landing at CVG the day after tomorrow at 4pm. I taped my flight itinerary to the fridge. Please, make sure you’re there to pick me up. Love you, Geri. Hope you’re taking good care of Pocky.”

The smoke detector began to squeal. 

I ended the phone call with Livy without replying and ran to the kitchen. 

Grey clouds bellowed from a blackened skillet of chard plantains. Beside the pan, a bubbling pot belched green slime and strings of spinach onto the stovetop and floor. 

You really had meant to be better, like other people, like Mom.

Pocky’s bark rose above the hiss of oil and fire, the popping stew, and the relentless whine of the smoke alarm. 

I stood in the center of the kitchen, and joined the cacophony with my own rabid shouts. 

Shut up. 

Shut up! 

SHUT UP!

You too, stupid little dog. 

Shut up . . . or I’ll make you. 

 

 

 

E – 20 seconds and counting 

 

“Seriously, where is Pocky? Is he upstairs?”

Listening to Livy clomp up the steps to the second floor, you think, I belong on Mars not here in Plymouth having to answer to my twin.

Why are you here?

Maybe sharing Mom’s attention with five other siblings instilled a need to be noticed and left alone. Maybe these conflicting desires led you abroad to other countries where you could stand out without having to speak.

After you had gotten fired from the library and escaped to Thailand, Livy eventually canceled the credit card you had stolen. You foraged enough freelance work proofreading and copyediting to live month to month. Eventually, you found a job at an English tutoring center sponsored by a university in the small town of Zhuji, China, south of Hangzhou.

A week before I had to arrive in China, I decided to visit Cambodia. I had hoped a trip to Siem Reap might cure my increasing weariness of the world. Among the ruins of its ancient jungle cities I’d yearned to experience something new and unexpected. 

I climbed the steep stairs to the tallest spire at Angkor Wat. Sweating as I shuffled through the dark stone walkways, I came across a pair of golden sculptures of the Buddha and thought about the age of the statues and how far away they stood from everything I had ever known in Plymouth. 

I wondered if Mom had thought something similar when she first landed in the Netherlands. Could she or my ancestors have ever conceived what I saw at that moment? Could they have ever predicted their blood moving across the Earth, the sum of their bodies standing in a land so alien to them? 

I might as well have been on another planet.  

I thought about perspective. 

My chest swelled as I considered all I had experienced, and weighed my privilege against pharaohs, emperors and kings throughout history. 

As I prepared to climb back down into the jungle, I noticed a thin young backpacker swigging the last few ounces of water from a plastic bottle. He resembled an Eastern Christian depiction of Jesus Christ with a blond beard and light eyes. His flaxen hair was pulled into a bun and a folded bandana replaced a crown of thorns. 

The young savior finished with the container. He tossed the empty bottle onto a pile of trash pushed into the corner of a thousand year old entranceway. 

Unacceptable. How could others not respect the gravity of this place? How could they not also feel changed? How could they be so ungrateful? Reprehensible. People can’t be allowed to get away with such disrespect. You had to do something.

I followed him as he rushed down the spire steps to join a group of other travelers leaning against a wall of the Khmer Empire. When he reached his compatriots, he removed a cellphone from his cargo shorts. I moved closer, and when I heard him complain about the lack of connectivity, I yanked the device from his hands. 

You became justice.

I squatted to the ground and smashed the phone on a thick forest root. 

You became cosmic retribution, the personification of karma and doom.

I yelled for them all to show reverence.

Backpacker Jesus cursed me. 

A few of his friends helped pry the cracked phone from my fingers, and the group hurried away.

You stood up. Soaked with perspiration and satisfaction, you smiled at a couple of concerned onlookers. You waved at them and thought, It’s okay. No need to thank me. 

After Cambodia, you arrived in China and lived in Zhuji for a couple of years, then Guangdong for a few months before moving to Hangzhou and finally Shanghai—a louder city.

Livy called you only once in Shanghai.

It was the first time you had heard her speak in years.

You had been asleep when the phone rang. Barely awake, you were initially confused by the sound of a voice so similar to your own glumly repeating your name.

Livy told you Mom had died.

And you replied that you couldn’t make it to the funeral.

Too busy. 

“Too busy?”

You ended the call, and kicked out from underneath your goose-feather comforter.

And then you were alone in your pajamas a block from your apartment, strolling a crowded stretch of Nanjing Road.

So much noise. 

“Hello, watches, bags?”

“Hello, take a picture?”

“Hello, teahouse?”

An elderly homeless woman poked your tits with the lip of a paper cup. The beggar lady shook her cup at your face and the spare change rattled.

Rattling in the skull like coins in an empty cup. Too busy, too much—”Hello, watches, bags, hello, take a picture, hello, teahouse?”—noise. I envy the static peace those settlers will find on Mars.

Taxi!

Anywhere, but here.

Gridlock.

The driver dug the heel of his palm into the center of the steering wheel. The horn blared, and you stabbed the vinyl seats with the nice pen Mom had given you that time you came home for Christmas.

Mom had wanted you to write home more.

The pen snapped and sprayed ink across the cab. The driver shouted and pulled over. You stretched the holes you had made, shoving fingers into the fabric, tearing and peeling until you could fit your fists into the open seats. You punched down again and again, cutting your knuckles on metal springs. The ink stung the new wounds.

The driver exited, walked around the car and opened the rear passenger door. He tried to pull you out. But you held on. With your hands stained red and black, you held on like you’d never been able to before.

And then you caught a glimpse of a woman in the rearview mirror who looked like you.

That is me. I am her. Geri and Deoiridh. Twin pilgrims.  

We smile knowingly as the driver barks.

Noise. Never stops.

Never stops barking.

Shut up, or we’ll make you.

 

 

 

E – 00 seconds 

 

Livy comes down the stairs. Again, she remarks how the first floor of the house smells like something rotten. Her voice is frantic.

An exploration rover watches Xiumei Dong, the first settler, step out onto the surface of Mars, half a kilometer from the New Plymouth crater.

Xiumei was chosen from thousands of open applicants.

She’s a microbiologist and former ESL teacher.

I was a foreign language teacher too.

We squint harder. We touch our nose to the screen, scanning the blurry pixels for any resemblance we might share with Xiumei. We blink and our eyes sting from the light.

I imagine myself as an astronaut falling to Earth in only a spacesuit. 

Time is perspective. 

The world spins fast, 1675 kilometers an hour, 465 meters a second, but from above I don’t miss a moment. 

I finally see everything. 

I can see the Himalayas melting. I can trace the layers of erosion with my fingers and follow the runoff of mountain sediment as it falls into the Bay of Bengal. Burning in the troposphere, the heat shatters my sun visor and the sounds of the Earth slam into my ears. The infinite quiet disappears, swallowed by the whoosh and howl of wind and the crackling of my scorched suit. I feel the flames sear an outline of the Indian Ocean onto my retina.

Livy follows the stench back to the dirty pots in the sink.

She doesn’t scream when she discovers the smell has originated from more than rancid stew. We barely hear her muffled sobs as she pulls Pocky from beneath the kitchen sink—caked in his own shit, piss and vomit, stuffed into a pillowcase with his snout and tiny paws bound with shoe stings. Pocky doesn’t have enough strength to even whimper.

Livy has nothing left to say.

Perhaps she will finally feel free to leave us in silence.

Because now we know all we’ve ever wanted was to be alone and remembered.

We’ve always ached for the world to stop to notice our distance.

And I’m still falling, further down, singed and grey, faster and faster until my bones shatter against the sea and my skin rips apart, and even then I continue descending, further down, down into the dim shapeless blue, and then black, down further still, meters, miles: first through twilight, and then crust, and midnight, mantle and abyss. I descend, compressed and twisted, through basin and trenches, and slip past unfathomable darkness into core, falling until I might finally rest, consumed by hot, burning, light.  

 

 

 

 

A few good words with Donald

 

PDS: “Twin Pilgrims” is written in second person, which creates these thick sinews of intimacy between Geri and the reader—a closeness that isn’t always comfortable, but necessary. I think that it’s important that we as readers are able to see inside of her head. And there’s a certain kind of round-robined communication: the author to the reader, the reader to themselves as Geri, and Geri speaking to herself in her mind. How did you build the voices of this story, inside and outside of the head of its sometimes narrator?

DQ: I subscribe to the principle that form should follow function. I think it’s as crucial to writing as it is to modernist architecture and design. When crafting the voice and perspective(s) in “Twin Pilgrims,” I started by thinking about what I needed the narrative to do and what I wanted it to say. My intention was to convey the fractured identity that one might feel hailing from different backgrounds, and the dissociations someone might experience being biracial or growing up in an immigrant household. Because of her many different backgrounds, the protagonist feels pulled in vastly different directions and struggles to find a space she belongs. With that in mind, I attempted to construct a narration that would provide the character a means of interrogating herself, a way for her to mentally sort through her past and potentially piece herself together. Because the feelings of alienation that she explores are common and relatable, I adopted a second person “you” in hopes of inviting the reader into a discussion with the text.

 

PDS: When I think about black futurist narratives, I think about the importance of the imagined other world—the one in which we are somehow free from what oppresses us on this earth, in these histories. Space holds infinite possibility for new/different/safe/safer existences. In this story, the Mars expedition is the “Harbinger,” and Geri didn’t make it to this potential new space for life. In the end her imagined experience in space is really an imagination of her own death—or at least her own transmutation. What metaphorical scope did you see space holding?

DQ: I totally agree with you. Space represents a second chance, a cosmic re-do. The vastness of the universe conveys a chance to try again, to apply what we’ve learned to make corrections and free ourselves from inherited oppression. Geri sees this. She recognizes space as a chance to reinvent her world. I think this also makes this character understandable to others who are marginalized. Others struggling against the lasting effects of colonialism here on Earth, might also yearn for the opportunities space colonization might provide. The landing of the Harbinger expedition on Mars signifies a chance for liberation from the hierarchies that ground so many across this planet.

 

PDS: What other work builds worlds that suck you in and eats you up? What writers are also deft astronauts?

DQ: I love César Aira, particularly his books Varamo and Ghosts. Aira crafts these Dadaist and Surrealist novellas that he considers long poems. They are wildly inventive, incongruous and experimental. Every narrative is its own unique world where anything can happen. I enjoy Colin Cheney. His poetry collection Here Be Monsters is stellar. I deeply admire Cheney’s imaginative juxtapositions and this is prevalent in his prose too, which is equally satisfying. Rion Amilcar Scott is a deft storyteller and a lot of his work centers on a fictional town called Cross River, Maryland—a black settlement founded in 1807 after the only successful slave revolt in United States history. Scott’s universe is immersive, familiar but surprising. His debut collection, Insurrections, is out now.

 

 

Donald Edem Quist is the author of the short story collection Let Me Make You A Sandwich, and the essay collection HARBORS (fall 2016). His work has appeared in North American Review, The Rumpus, Hunger Mountain, J Journal and elsewhere in print and online. He’s a Fiction Editor for Atlas and Alice. He is a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow and earned his MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find him online at iamdonaldquist.com.

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