No. 46: Elizabeth Frankie Rollins
Q. What made you decide to submit this particular section from “Seeking Rubilio” to Fairy Tale Review, and not another one?
The short: The first 20 pages were the most polished, as the fairy tale is still in progress. The long: This story started with me writing about irritations in disguise on Facebook. I like posting, having a little audience, and though I don’t want to talk about mundane specifics of a problem, I do want to gesture at the emotions around it. So I took a character from a story that was failing, Abelard, and made him a kind of avatar for my troubled self. For example, Abelard and his group find a bloated foot; that bloated foot was a symbol for something grotesque and horrifying that I discovered in real life. So this tale, at first, unfolded at the rate of my difficulties, and I went back to get the flavor of the pacing each time I wrote something new, so the first pages got polished as I went.
Q. What would you write down in the Glossary of Fears?
“They compared these fears to their previous fears. It was true that their fears were becoming more specific and named.” Like the characters, my fears have become more specific over time. I used to fear cancer, now I fear the hours that cancer demands for therapies, appointments, and time spent dreading these things. I used to fear a catastrophic accident, now I fear the small, chronic disorders of aging. I used to fear not being loved, now I fear I have spent too much time on love. Also on the list: a conversation that I hope never happens; my beloveds dying; running out of water in the desert; global warming; the Cascadia fault line giving way; American politics; racism; the plight of refugees. It’s a heavy book.
Q. I appreciated your depiction of the useless Oracle and Helon, the mute character. Sometimes, the people we’re supposed to listen to speak nothing of importance, and the ones who don’t speak at all have the most to say. Who else do you think exemplifies this, either fictional or real?
My first experience of a useless “hero” appeared on our black and white television in the mid-70’s. I was shocked by the reveal of the Wizard of Oz as an ordinary man, exposed and flailing behind his curtain. Later, when I wanted to write an oracle, I studied the oracle at Delphi, also known as the “Pythia,” which comes from the Greek verb, “pythein,” which means to rot. I found a long and conflicted tale of virgins, methane gases, gibberish, good advice. There are many real-life folks, too, who haven’t earned their badges authentically. Parents who abuse their kids. Teachers who like power but not students. Politicians who like power but not constituents. Bunch of fakers. People who would rather lie than say, I don’t know, let’s figure this out together. Luckily, there are millions of utterly inspiring folks who give freely of their light.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Elizabeth Frankie Rollins’ piece, from Seeking Rubilio, can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from Seeking Rubilio
Armed with the Optimists’ List and their Glossary of Fears, the little band marched resolutely towards the darkest part of the woods. They gave up trying to leave a trail. They did not think they’d be coming back.
Even though it was raining hard, and rolling cold inside his cape, Abelard was determined to be cheerful. In the morning, he woke and saw a small green tree trembling under the drops and it was so lovely, he decided he must also be thus struck and thus continuing.
When they found the foot in the moss, shedding its bloated flesh into the ground for some time previous, they flailed with fear and indecision. It was Lenore who said, finally, in a small voice, “It is only a sign that we must go forward.”
They thought the map was full of false landmarks. They thought it was the wrong map. They sank into their coats and silences and walked on. At the end of the day, a distant peak came into view. It was quite possible that this thing, this peak, was the one they sought. Now’s the time, Abelard whispered to himself.
Abelard was sweating from the climb. The oracle was not as he’d imagined. Something about the eyes was not right. Something about her face, or the neck. Smoke snaked up from a rock and the small creature inhaled and grimaced.
In the cave, Abelard’s panic rose in his throat. He asked his question. The cave smelled of shit and piss and he saw, indeed, that the oracle sat not far from a heap of her own shit and piss, her legs smeared. There were nut hulls all around her rock perch, and a carved wooden cup. She began to speak. He could not make out her words. It was as though she was talking to someone else in some other language. Abelard realized that he was simply going to have to believe that what he thought they should do next was what they were supposed to do next.
At the foot of the mountain, Weiren entertained them with stories from her childhood. She’d been raised in the castle, the cook’s youngest child. She knew a lot of tales. The others fell asleep. When they were all asleep, Weiren looked up at the mountain where Abelard had disappeared. She opened the Optimists’ List and wrote a line.
Abelard scrabbled down the mountain, sending showers of pebbles in front of him. The smell was in his nose and the gleeful, screeching oracle’s voice was in his ears, DEAD DAYS AND DEAD NIGHTS!