“Which path are you going to take,” asked the wolf,
“the path of needles or the path of pins?”
No. 19: Beth Steidle
Q. This essay is called “From the West,” but you currently live in Brooklyn—are you from the West? How did your conception of the West inform your writing?
To me, the west is an amalgamation of the visceral and unforeseen. For example, 1. I lived in Southern Utah for a little while–a startling place for a lifelong East Coaster, with an utterly martian beauty and lethal unpredictabilities. There were scorpions at the door, the Colorado River running red, slot canyons, scorching heat, and wild antelope. 2. The Wicked Witch of the West sent from the west, amongst other things, a pack of 40 wolves, a flock of 40 crows, and a swarm of bees. The vision of an aquaphobic, green-faced terror encapsulates rampant evil and volatile cowardice, predator to the unassuming. 3. I saw my father succumb to a persistent form of cancer, which spread from kidney to lungs to brain. This was its own crazed terrain, where we spoke of ghosts and fixated on centimeters.
Q. The word and concept of “tornado” takes on many shapes in your essay, and many images read almost out of a fairy tale itself. What is it about that kind of indiscriminate violence that seems absurd and illogical (or consisting of fairy-tale logic) to us?
Fairy-tale violence is often cyclical: evil preys on the good, a turn of fortune follows, good vanquishes evil, balance is restored. The wolf consumes but the wolf is cut open. The witch kidnaps but is roasted in her own oven. A beauty is condemned to eternal sleep but wakes up again. We come to expect proper retribution, we crave revenge, we seek comeuppance, we grow faithful. We repeat: what goes around comes around. We apply this concept to the natural world, where it cannot adhere. A tornado will slice open a house, destroy one half and leave the other half perfectly intact. Illness will infect a saint. We huff at such disregard, condemn natural disorder, call it illogical. But it’s just weather.
Q. If you had a GPS that could guide you in any voice you wanted toward anywhere you want to go, what voice would you choose, and where would it take you? A fairy tale space, or a real one?
I don’t need anything fancy. I just want a nice, disembodied British lady. And I just want her to tell me from time to time “you’ve done the right thing” or “your life has gone horribly awry” or “less cake, more greens.” Also, “don’t forget to feed your turtle in the morning.”
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Prose Editor Joel Hans.
From the West
That summer thirteen funnel clouds touch down in televised wheat fields. Like Japanese ghosts, pale and legless. At the diner, my mother murmurs doomsday. The waitress asks if we’re ready. Onscreen, the Doppler spreads fervent pixels. Birds ascend. Dogs grow feral and flee towards higher ground. A woman weeps, pulls her hair over herself and shuts it like a tent. One can always be closer. Louder, bolder. Referring to the endless salad bar, my mother says, make sure you get your money’s worth. Over a photograph of an open-faced turkey sandwich, my father, the Great Skeptic, admits he believes in ghosts. He says, just floating, and wiggles his fingers. There his grandfather hangs in the corner. There grey twisters sucker across the gray prairie, leaving gray gutters in the gray earth. My father is, at that moment, dying. We continue eating. White tumors silently expand within. Black lesions spot the torso. The afterimage begins its beamed course. Our ears peel for echo. The dead leave gray gutters in the gray earth. Meteorologists prep for more. Sirens, cellars, get down, stay down. We say, no, we need more time. Everything is gray, white or black. Everything is mapped. Isn’t it. We turn towards the television again, then again. By definition, to be this you must touch both the sky and the ground.
Read the rest of the piece in The Emerald Issue.