No. 31: Emily Temple
Q. Do you see Olive as a resident of fairyland while also living in our world, or do you see Olive as a normal resident of a fairyland that looks much like our world? In other words, is the fairy tale in Olive’s head, or in the world around her, or both? Or neither?
It seems to me that the strangeness of the world Olive inhabits originates in her mind, but is projected around her like a semi-real bubble, with Olive as, essentially, the singularity at the center of the fairy tale, affecting everyone who comes within her reach. But, to be fair, isn’t this how we all experience the world? As though it expands outwards from our own consciousness and (for all intents and purposes) disappears at the edges of what we can personally fathom? Anyway, ultimately I’d argue that there’s no difference between fairyland and our world. It’s a matter of what each of us chooses to see.
Q. The carpenter posits that “old lady” is the equivalent of a “hypochondriac for houses.” Would you classify “Emily Temple” as a “hypochondriac for __________”? Anything?
Oh, I am definitely a hypochondriac for dust. I live in a creaky house that was built sometime at the end of the 19th century, and it is a dust factory. I’m not a clean freak by any measure — it’s more that I will pick up piles of clothes, vacuum the floor underneath them, and put them back down. I vacuum my books. I vacuum inside my shoes. I have vacuumed the sink. I also enjoy feather dusters. Where is the dust coming from? Is it inside the walls? Is it inside my mind? Etc.
Q. “But you should not be tempted to let this sort of fairy-tale discourse fool you. This is not a fairy tale.” How did we miss this before? Did you trick us into publishing a not-fairy tale? How did you do it?
Duh: magic! My list of victims grows longer. But really, the thing I love most about fairy tales is that while they are often magical, and sometimes surreal, and every once in a while clearly insane, the best ones feel like they get at some essential reality. Maybe even a difficult, unhappy reality. The kind of reality that a nosy narrator might claim to be not fairy-tale-like at all. If only that narrator knew.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans.
Emily Temple’s story “Olive” appeared in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “Olive”
Olive was drilling a hole through her fence.
No, that’s not quite accurate. The carpenter was drilling a hole through Olive’s fence, the fence being a big honking white picket one, the kind you see in advertisements for dryer sheets. Olive was directing.
“Here?” the carpenter asked, pressing the drill bit against the wood.
“Higher,” she said. “I don’t want to have to stoop so much when I look through. And watch the yellow roses. They’re testy.” Olive laughed at her own joke, her throat a little scratchy from the heat. The drill buzzed, and a smooth circle of picket fence disappeared into the field on the other side.
The fence surrounded Olive’s entire property, save for a tiny swinging gate near her front door. She had no neighbors to speak of, only the dusty field where the little boys played on one side and a scraggly, ill-conceived patch of suburban thicket on the other. Olive had lived in the house behind the fence for many years. She could not remember how many. It had been thirteen, but she could not remember that. She would have guessed ten. But no one ever asked her. No one ever asked her anything unless she asked them something first. Such is the plight of old ladies.
The carpenter stepped back, and Olive pressed her eye against the fresh hole. Through the hole, she could see the dirty pillow that the boys used as home plate. She smiled, and her thin skin slid against the wood. She wanted to keep looking at the pillow, squashed and abandoned as it was on this weekday morning, but instead righted herself, not without some effort.
“How much?” she asked the carpenter, but he just waved her off, already halfway gone, like a big sweaty genie retreating back into his lamp after granting a particularly futile wish, his boots trailing mud across her porch steps. They’d see each other again soon.
Here are the things that Olive loved: a good cup of tea, her garden, and Billy.
When Olive was a young girl, she acquired the habit of dipping sugar cubes into her tea and then sucking them dry, repeating the process over and over until the cubes crumbled to bits inside her mouth. Her parents, ever affirming, bought her sugar cubes in different shapes; her favorites were the ones that looked like the spades on playing cards. The clubs fell apart too quickly. It was all that extra negative space. Why any child’s parents would encourage such a tooth-destroying habit as this is another issue, but who’s to say? Perhaps it was for the good, because tea, a really sweet cup of tea, drunk slowly, was one of the only pleasures that had lasted Olive her whole life. Now as an old woman, her first creaky morning movement was always towards the teakettle. After brewing the tea, Earl Grey or English Breakfast or, occasionally, a stalwart Green, for exactly four minutes, she dipped and sucked, dipped and sucked, dipped and sucked, until she was satisfied.
Olive, whenever she got the chance, would say that she didn’t feel old, that she felt just as she had when she was eighteen. But no matter how many times she said this, it never became true, except for the ten minutes it took her to drink her tea every morning. Lately, she favored big oval sugars, like the heads of tiny people. She gave them names as they dissolved on her tongue, and laughed.