Nevertheless She Persisted

Anabasis

On International Women’s Day, several of the best writers in SF/F today reveal new stories inspired by the phrase “Nevertheless, she persisted”, raising their voice in response to a phrase originally meant to silence.

The stories publish on Tor.com all throughout the day of March 8th. They are collected here.

 

Anabasis

 

A warning is the same as a threat. Television teaches this. Is that a threat / call it a warning. Call it by a different name, and it changes.

Snow is only slow, cold rain. Only rain.

Her child said, Mama, I want to die in the snow.

* * *

I am a shape-shifter. Most people are. We change our shapes day on day, replace cells, grow muscles and fat, shed hair, grow it back lighter, darker. Some of us do it faster, is all—some of us have specialties.

My specialty is mouths.

My real mouth is full of sharp teeth and a sharper tongue, three languages coiled like snakes in my throat, scaly and silent. My real mouth is an armoury of words forged in the furnace of my chest, hot as a spitted sun. My real mouth is a storm, and my voice is thunder.

To pass among you I wear a different mouth: full lips unparted, always smiling. I paint it pretty colours. It speaks only when spoken to, softly. To pass among you, it tells you stories:

I am sweetness. I am sunshine. I am here to hold your hand through the horror of my name.

My mouth is a coin, and I spend it.

* * *

An explanation is the same as an excuse. There are agreements, laws, protocols; there are pieces of paper more important than her child’s pain.

She was given an explanation as if it were a blanket, or food, or shelter. She was given an explanation as if it were a gift, to be purchased with gratitude.

She walked past it, into the snow.

* * *

Borders are shape-shifters, too: they change what goes through them. Time was, the only border worth crossing was into the underworld, to fetch back a lover’s life: Take off your shoes, said Ereshkigal to Inanna, your belt, your rings. Take off your armour, your hair, your skin, your flesh. Set your bones aside separately; bag your liquids. Do you have any sensitive areas—

We cross into the sky now. Plus ça change.

My passport is a blue rectangle stamped Canada. My name is inside it. The border’s eye falls on it and shifts it into threat. The border’s eye looks at me and we wrestle, as his eye tries to change me into Arab or Muslim, and I struggle to remain Canadian.

My mouth does most of the work. My mouth is soft and yielding; my mouth is what books call generous. My mouth does not get angry. My mouth spills its English out as tribute, smooth seamless scales gleaming in the fluorescent light.

* * *

The cold has a mouth. It eats fingers and toes, nibbles ears like a paperback lover. She knew the stories of bodies carved into classical sculpture, here missing a hand, there a foot, a nose. She knew the border is a wire that shears bodies into meat, to be chewed and spat out again, one bloody gobbet at a time. She knew it.

The only mouth that matters is her child’s, gnawing her heart one word at a time.

So she walks.

* * *

If I could take each of my words and lay them in the snow at her feet. If I could take each of my mouths and eat this distance between us. If I could devour this border, if I could tell it to smile while I broke its teeth, if I could unsheathe the sword of my mouth and strike it down, if I could thread the needle of my mouth and stitch good shoes for her baby, if I could cut a path into this country with the sharpness of my tongue—

If I could change the world as easily as my mouth…

With the whole of my furnace-heart, I would. But I can’t.

Nevertheless, she persisted.

 


Read the next story in Nevertheless, She Persisted

el-mohtar-author-photoAmal El-Mohtar is an award-winning writer of fiction, poetry, and criticism. Her stories and poems have appeared in magazines including Lightspeed, Uncanny, Strange Horizons, Apex, Stone Telling, and Mythic Delirium; anthologies including The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales (2016), Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Stories (2014), and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011); and in her own collection, The Honey Month. You can find her on Twitter @tithenai.

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