No. 49: Kellie Wells
Q. “The Arse End of the World” combines the idea of an origin story, bildungsroman, and magical realism all into one unique universe, filled with and molded by paradoxes. How did you keep everything straight?
I’m not sure that I did keep everything straight exactly, but bringing those things together was part and parcel of trying to imagine a sympathetic figure of death. The world of the story seems to me to operate by a fairly conventional kind of logic. If Death is birthed, it stands to reason he will then have formative years, and, not being a natural reaper, will require some instruction. Paradoxes, aside from just being, for me, a distinguishing feature of everyday life, arise automatically with a tender-hearted and vulnerable figure of death. He must necessarily be fearful of developing attachments, for he will eventually be the assassin of all that he dares to love. The heart of Death is a beleaguered thing.
Q. The endearments that the tiny man drowning in his trousers uses made me laugh: “my kidney” and “my darling slop bucket,” in particular. How would you react if someone used such a strange endearment for you?
I would be delighted. If only! I exit the bed each morning with the fond, if futile, hope that perhaps today…
Q. “The only tenable future in this universe, thought Death, was no future at all.” Tell us more about this.
The story makes a somewhat commonplace argument for the necessity of life being transitory (while at the same time briefly imagining, optimistically, the existence of many worlds). For most of the story Death isn’t really sold on this idea, though, or rather he’s not sold on the idea that he must be the one to carry out the universe’s dirty work. He’s really not cut out to be an executioner. But as Death ages, many sorrowful things, to which he must somehow reconcile himself, occur, and so he eventually arrives at the idea that life without borders is an “affliction,” at least so it is in this famished world whose unending hunger he is summoned forth to resolve.
Interview conducted by Fairy Tale Review Editorial Assistant Lucille Randazzo.
Kellie Wells’ story, “The Arse End of the World” can be found in The Mauve Issue of Fairy Tale Review.
an excerpt from “The Arse End of the World”
When Death was born, it was outwardly ambivalent, gelatinous face pursed in indecision, groin smooth and non-committal. Its mother, chafed by the additional labor, groaned and pinched it gruffly between the legs. The infant belched at the sexing and stretched his limbs to accommodate the extra bulk. His mother began to caution him against assuming an unwieldy shape whose gaping appetites it would be difficult to satisfy, but the minute she summoned the breath necessary to chasten the little grub, she fell into a dead faint. With the expulsion of the child came the loss of both blood and that energizing sorrow she’d so carefully nursed throughout her inflation.
Death’s ashen pallor made people whisper that he’d soon succumb to himself. And then where would the world be? fretted the famished townsfolk. Surely, Death’s death would doom the world to becoming a place whose monstrous burgeoning could drive away even the charitable moon, who nightly sloughed light the villagers collected and was known to be even-tempered and tolerant. The stars, timorous as mice, would be the first to turn tail, and in the absence of their buttressing illumination, the moon would not be far behind. And then the night would come to mean something grave and insular: children would tremble inside their bedclothes; dogs would peddle their legs in their dreaming; atoms would shift and elbow one another, causing objects to topple from shelves; grass would bend against the sky’s blind gasping; and all of it would go unwitnessed, covered in the extinguishing soot of an unlit night. The villagers shuddered to think of it.
Death’s mother, Dolores Whose Heart Beats Only on Mondays, was the one to hatch the idea of birthing Death, when the heart-sore starvelings gathered to brood over their collective woes. The town, wanting for solutions, was quick to agree. The valley had once been rich in high protein mice (dairy mice whose milk could be made into a lovely cheddar), roaming boulders (which left in their wake a trail of mice ready for tenderloining), nourishing land anemones (though the last of those had been harvested generations ago), and an endless supply of the dust of fallen stars, a popular condiment that made even mud and sapling soup delicious and iridescent. But as the human population increased, the food supply had, naturally, scurried in the opposite direction. People had grown so sharp with leanness they had only to hurl themselves against trees to fell them. The thunder that issued from the valley’s aching belly made it difficult to think of anything but ways to silence it, and Dolores Whose Heart Beats Only on Mondays told her neighbors the following story:
When I was a wee girl, I fell asleep in the timothy, and there came to me a man so tiny he thrashed and swam to keep up with his trousers, and he was forever in a rhubarb with his suspenders, which liked to choke the peewaddin’ out of him when he walked. He took a rest beside me and I roused. He asked me this, “Tell me, dear kidney, have you heard of the End of the World?”