No. 41: Elise Winn
Q. “After my father left, she’d passed the books down to me. Remember, she said, none of this is true.” How do you see that dynamic working in your story, the mother saying the romance books are untrue amid a child that is reborn into different shapes every day?
The poor mother and her rejected romance books! For her, I think, love is as magical and improbable as her son’s many transformations, and, as she’s experienced it, just as transitory and unpredictable. What happens when the people we love turn into different people, whether over time or in an instant? The mother reacts one way, her daughter another. I imagine, in a different state, the mother would be proud of the way her daughter repurposes her library.
Q. Are there siblings in your life, and if so, did they weigh into this story, in terms of the relationship between the brother and sister? Are sibling dynamics, like fairy tales, a language much their own?
I have no brothers or sisters, and I wonder if this is why I’m often compelled to write siblings into my stories, rather than only-children. It is yet another reason to love fairy tales, which give us so many sets of siblings to explore. I do think sibling dynamics are a language much their own, one which, as an outsider looking in, has always seemed mysterious and fascinating to me. Still, I like to think I got a little glimpse of what it would be like to have sisters from growing up near two cousins close to my age—we invented games, alliances, and arguments to keep ourselves entertained.
Q. Why a rabbit, of all animals? Why, with the mice and rats and wolves, is the rabbit where our narrator’s mother draws the line, in terms of what she is okay with her son becoming?
Right? Rabbits seem highly preferable to all those other beasts, roaches especially, although I know from experience they are messy and tend to chew through every wire in sight. But I suspect the mother is heartbroken and fed up, and would’ve refused her son no matter what form he took next. After all, he is still a form of his father. This is why I so admire the narrator’s bravery and kindness—and her devotion to her mother, as well as her brother. Perhaps her own reading of fairy tales has better prepared her for the challenges she faces; maybe she knows how important it is to be kind to animals.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Managing Editor Joel Hans
Elise WInn’s story, “Brother and Sister,” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review, and was the winner of our 2014 contest.
an excerpt from “Brother and Sister”
My poor brother: he was born a rat, a snake, a wolf, a roach. Our mother tried and tried for another child like me, a plain and smart child, a resourceful child, but it didn’t work out. Each time she birthed him, she cried out in terror and put him back, but he came out a different kind of disappointing every time.
“I wish you would have stopped at snake,” our father said before he packed his things and left.
“I’m not the one who wanted another mouth to feed,” our mother yelled after him.
I blame my father’s genes—he’s the sort of man who always keeps you guessing.
Our mother made herself a protein shake and took to her bed, where she cursed our father loud enough all the neighbors could hear.
I rocked my brother to sleep but could do nothing for my mother. She cried through the night, and in the morning her sheets were cold and damp, and her face had puffed like risen dough. She plucked my brother from my fingers and carried him to the backyard. She dropped him where the woods started and said, “Nature will take care of that. If he survives a day, I’ll reconsider.”
I followed my mother back to the house and made her a pot of chamomile tea. I wrapped her feet in a warm blanket.
“What I really want,” she said, “is a piece of chocolate cake.”
I baked the cake and frosted it as smoothly as I could. The trick is the crumb coat. We ate the cake together, slice after slice, until we were sick.
“What I really want,” she said, “is something for my sore stomach.”
I measured out medicine in a cup and watched her gulp it down.
“I’d like to see you try having a baby that many times. You don’t know what it does to you. I’m so tired,” she said, and kissed me on the cheek.
While she slept, I snuck out the back door to check on my brother. The boy who lived in the yellow house next door was watering his lawn, the hose coiled behind him.
“I always forget before school,” he said. “And the grass is always dying. I’m always killing it, I guess is what I mean.”
I nodded and kept walking. I never know what to say to the people who can see in our windows. What have you seen and what did you miss? I feel I should ask.
“Also,” he said, “I’m sorry about your father. I heard your mother say a lot of bad things about him.”
“Well, okay,” I said. “Thanks.”
I hurried to the trees and called to my brother. He appeared from under a stone, small and shivering in the moonlight.
“Hey,” I said, “I brought you this.” I unwrapped the last slice of cake from my napkin and set it on the ground. He made a bed in the middle layer, and in the morning my mother found him perched on the porch light, a mouse-brown moth.
“Oh!” she said, “it’s you. I want to let you in, but look what you’ve done to me. Look how you’ve made me cry. Why can’t you frost cakes like your sister?” She swatted at him with her hands and chased him with a newspaper, but he flew back to the woods and disappeared in the trees.
“If he can last three days,” my mother sighed, “maybe I’ll let him in.”