01 May 2014


Character Connection 44

It must be all that Marian fallout from the last "Two or Three" Book Club pick: now I want to do another May Is for Mothers month, complete with Locus Focus posts every Saturday. (You're thrilled, I'm sure.) My personal challenge is Mothers' Birthplaces, but I'd love to read linked up posts about any setting that you want to blog about, too. =)

The "book club" itself will be on hiatus until mid-July . . . because I need to get ready for you-know-what in June! ;-) As for today, let's all meet our first mother . . . 

In the Dark
by Sally Thomas

She could remember the exact moment when she had known, in her bones, that the marriage was over. They had been in the car, she and Byron, driving home after yet another session with Gareth's doctor, rehearsing yet again the same argument.

"You heard what he said, Byron."
Again. What the doctor said again. "We've got to be more careful. Even light through a window counts as exposure."

Byron, driving, said, "I heard."


"Look, Annie," Byron said, "He's not going to live. We've already put rubber-backed blackout curtains on every window of the house. We already keep him inside while everybody else in the world is out there living. Whatever we do, Gareth is not going to live. I guess I just don't see the point."

In the Dark is a short story from the latest issue of Dappled Things, the literary journal I help to edit, and Sally Thomas is one of my favourites among our regular contributors. (I'm allowed to say that about her, right?)

Anne and Byron's family started to splinter when they learned that their youngest son Gareth had a rare condition that made him unable to tolerate sunlight. To Anne, all the next steps were no-brainers: the house got blackout curtains, her two older children were homeschooled so they could stay up at night with their brother, and the whole family became nocturnal. To Byron, it was all madness: those weren't changes that he--and the rest of the family--were happy to make. And after five exhausting years of trying to hold everyone together, to make one member's burden lighter for being shared, Anne finally got the message that the load just wasn't one that everyone else was willing to bear.

I've known mothers like Anne and I can't really blame the rest of the family for thinking she's overreacting. In fact, I'll even bet that before Gareth finally dies (life expectancy being twelve to nineteen years old), he, too, will lash out at her for being so overprotective. Yes, he will grant, she spared him from the sunburns he might have contracted in his father's home, where only dark plastic blinds covered the windows . . . but perhaps what she was really doing was using an innocent child to get revenge on an ex-husband, whom she was responsible for driving away in the first place.

Even the most sympathetic reader wants to imagine that Anne could have avoided this. Surely her family falling apart was enough of a warning sign for her. When your husband leaves you, your firstborn child demands to live with him, and your only daughter takes out all her anger on you . . . aren't these indicators that you're doing something wrong? All this is easy to think--just as blame is easy to lay--but finding the right answers is like groping in the dark.

I think that anyone who has ever made a hard, life-changing decision out of love understands what it's like to have the world disapprove . . . and to have even those whom you'd expect to have your back turn their own backs on you. Near the end of In the Dark, we read the haunting line, "This was the air at the end of the world, and it was bitter in her mouth" . . . and the bitterest thing about it is knowing that there are so many more years of this air to breathe.

Image Source: Dappled Things, Candlemas 2014

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