No. 38: Christina Kloess
Q. “The house is alive.” Do you think every house has a kind of life? What about the place you’re living now?
I believe every building has a life: a soul, or a lack of a soul. I don’t mean the anachronistic things that make up its construction, or stuff left by former residents. I mean something deeper. The place where I live has a soul. Sometimes, in the front room, if you’re sitting in the right chair, you get the distinct scent of heavy floral old lady perfume. We used to say it was a ghost, but I think it’s the spirit of the house itself. And the scrapes on the floors, and the old glass doorknobs, and the piece of ancient Scotch tape I found when I was putting up Christmas decorations, and the draft in the hallway, and the sticky bedroom window: those are like the distinct notches you have on your shinbone, or the freckle in your eye, or the way you like tomato sauce but not tomatoes.
Q. If you are buried underneath a garden, hopefully a very long time from now, what would you like to grow out from you, as what seems to happen with Vikrum’s mother? What does that garden look like?
I want the garden that grows out of my body to be a grove of trees. There’s a low stone wall around it, and a wooden gate, but the gate is open. Preferably the grove is a grove of fruit trees, preferably apple trees, preferably McIntosh apples. I want the tree limbs to be creepy and spindly. I want a lot of shade, and I want kids to climb the tree branches to eat the apples when they’re fresh. When a kid falls and breaks her wrist, that’s okay. When the apples get overripe and fall off and rot on the ground, then I want bees to come and eat them. Dogs too. There will also be moss and big slabs of rocks, which I know would make the soil less than ideal for growing trees, but it would look really cool and inviting.
Q. Fairy tales usually involve finding keys to unlock secrets, but your story has a wonderful sequence of codebreaking to unlock a briefcase. Do you think we’ll always have keys (or even codebreaking) as motifs, as we move into more advanced technology? What are our next lockboxes for secrets?
Locks and keys are all around us, in reality and in metaphor—so I don’t think they will ever be gone from our stories. What’s more curious and maddening than a locked door with a secret you’re not allowed to know, or a strange sound behind it, or a strip of light showing under it, or an eye peering at you through the keyhole? If you learn someone’s computer passwords, you’re learning something intimate about them. That goes for the people who use “123” as a password, too. It’d be hard to write a story about a hotel keycard, but easy to write a story about a lock that unlocks for a thumbprint. Secrets kept in our brains are next, locked up in that labyrinth. Those are the most inscrutable secrets. Those ones drive you crazy, and you have to know them, so we’ll always end up like Bluebeard’s wife.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans.
Christina Kloess’ story, “Binnorie,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “Binnorie”
On the last day of winter, Vikrum watches Born Free in his bedroom. The movie is showing on cable, which means the connection is a little fuzzy. Vikrum steams up his glasses when he cries. He loves lions, has loved lions since his seventh birthday, last spring, when he went to the circus with Dad. He stood beside the lion’s cage clutching Dad’s hand, and saw the lion tamer with the whip and red coat and brave, strong face.
Sometimes, Vikrum imagines that he is the lion tamer. Sometimes he imagines he is standing there holding the lion tamer’s hand, and sometimes he imagines that he is the lion, and that he has eaten the lion tamer, ignoring his screams, ignoring the shards of bones stuck between his terrible teeth.
On Wednesday night, the day after the last day of winter, Vikrum goes into the bathroom to wash up for dinner. He leaves the water running in the empty sink, strips off his t-shirt, and stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His reflection stares back at him. His collarbone stands out against his skin, a nearly translucent arch. Above his left eyebrow, the red line of his smile-shaped scar had already faded.
At dinner, Vikrum sits quietly at the kitchen table, eating plain slices of bread. Dad has been buying the bleach-white supermarket loaves. After they eat the bread, he leaves the narrow bags piled, empty, behind the back door. The bags rustle when the back door opens and shuts. They sound like whispers.
The slices of the store-bought bread are malleable and soft, and Vikrum likes to make snowmen out of them, pulling out the centers in soft clumpy handfuls, rolling the heads and stomachs and bases between his palms. He makes the snowmen without worrying about being scolded, because Dad always watches his knife when he cuts. There is still a faint white band around his ring finger, like the ghost of his wedding ring. It might never go away. Vikrum stares at that band as Dad’s slender fingers work his knife, cutting Vikrum’s meatloaf into small and manageable lumps.
After dinner, Vikrum goes back into the bathroom. He stands in front of the mirror again, tightens his matchstick arms, Superman-style. Vikrum pulls faces and imagines muscles out of nothing. Vikrum slides two of his father’s naked razor blades under his upper lip, maneuvering them over his canine teeth. Two sharp gray fangs, hanging down over his mouth, gleaming quick and dangerous in the yellow vanity lights.
“I will get you,” he whispers to the mirror. “I will get you, I will get you, I will get you,” until the words are just sounds: eye we al gee et uou, ah wial gait u, eye, wheel, geet, yoo. He sees the lion tamer. He sees the top of his father’s head. Mostly he sees a snowbank, and a dull crumbled dot of dirt in the center, like a dribble of paint on a blank canvas.
But in the end, Vikrum only sees himself, stained yellow in the light, standing thin and bowed like a switch.