Sunday, June 7, 2009

A small gift

The dissertation is further along than it was when I last mentioned it. Which is how it ought to be. I have decided that I am through fighting with Chapter 14 of the novel, and am just going to throw it out and rewrite it. (Er, the chapter, not the novel.) I think this is a good plan. 

Transitioning between the projects is tricksy. Dissertation brain is not like novel brain, and I keep putting too much narrative and not enough argument into the dissertation chapters. And I have found that if I have put too many days into the dissertation without working on the novel, my creativity needs a warm-up exercise to write well again.

Which brings me to this next bit.

My friend Jen is awesome. She's awesome in a lot of ways, but the relevant one to this post, is that she's a completely brilliant scholar of fantasy literature, a subject in which she has just completed a draft of her dissertation. One of the things that she's been thinking about a lot in that project is interstitial spaces, the places in-between. I've been fortunate enough to be able to listen to her talk about her thoughts on those between places, and I found them really inspiring. When I thought about what I wanted to write to transition my brain between projects, Jen's dissertation sprang to mind. So I wrote this for her, as a way of doing a little thinking about the places between.


The Patron Saint of Passageways

            The angel stood in the doorway, the curve of his wings brushing the lintel. Had there been dust in that place, it would have sprinkled grey over the feathers that pressed on the edges of the boundary. But the dust was elsewhere, and the angel’s wings were as white as sun-blazed snow.

            In his hand, the angel held a key. Rose had come to that place for the key. The key, and the multitude of doors that the angel, Ashriel, stood at the center of.

            Rose bit her lip, hard, and tasted the salt-copper of her own blood. She didn’t speak, she just watched as the key in the angel’s hand shifted and changed. Now a rusted iron skeleton key, its finial a death’s head with a mouth shaped like a lock, now a house key with teeth worn from use, now a thin plastic rectangle, its mystery encoded in a magnetized strip.

            One of the keys was hers.

            One of the keys, and one of the doors.

            In her pocket, in a small plastic bag with a zipper, the sort that she had used to pack her peanut butter and raspberry jelly sandwiches in when she was a child, Rose carried the dust of her life. It hadn’t been as much as she had expected, not nearly, but then she wasn’t sure how such things were calculated.

            She clenched her hand around the bag, worrying at it gently, feeling her history shift and reshape itself under her hand. Rose watched the angel’s face, hoping for some sort of sign, some way to know when it was time to hand her life over to him. But there was no alteration in the expression of calm compassion that he wore. He looked upon her that way when she stumbled out of her life and through the door that brought her here, and he would bend that same look upon the next person who would stand in this endless passageway.

            The key in the angel’s hand continued to change shape. Now a switchblade key, now the simple bit of metal that would open a young girl’s diary.

            None, yet, were hers.

            Rose knew what would happen. She would pull her life from her pocket, and exchange it for a key. A key that would open a door and offer a choice. That was all. An exchange. A life for a key.

            Hand still in her pocket, holding the weight of her past, Rose turned away from the angel to look at the infinite doors. As many closed on her past as opened on her future, and that was something to consider as well. She could select a key that would allow her to step back into her old life, give her the option of living it differently, or she could move on.

            She had regrets, certainly. Rose had felt them, gritty and sharp against her skin as she gathered the dust of her life and swept it into a plastic bag. But there were also moments that she wouldn’t want to lose, and she risked their disappearance if she returned to the life she had before.

            The doors spiraled on before and behind her, as variant as the keys that would open them. Deciding that she had lingered long enough in the corridor between one life and the next, Rose pulled the bag of dust from her pocket and walked toward the angel.

            His hand closed around the key, obscuring its transformations.

            Rose offered her life to him, but the angel did not move to take it, nor did his hand loosen around the key.

            Eyes fixed on the terrible beauty of the angel’s face, Rose slowly peeled open the interlocking strips of plastic, and flung the dust of her life over the waiting angel.

            Flares of color streaked across his skin and dappled his wings. Her life flashed behind his eyes, and he handed Rose her key.

Still warm from the angel’s hand, the key was simple in shape, but made of clear glass, veined through with silver. When she looked up from it, she knew exactly the door it was meant for. She slid the key into the lock, and opened her life. 


  1. love love love. I enjoyed this so much that I actually read and tried to comment via ipod, despite evil clumsiness of touchscreen keyboard... I failed, so am making a repeat visit just to say that the dust of life, held in plastic baggies and exchanged for keys, is an amazing image and is lodged in my head.

  2. Thanks, Megan. I'm so glad you liked it.