“The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing” is a collection of flash fiction that shows how small moments can create the longest life changes, as exemplified in “Sarajevo Rose” where a man thinks back to his regular purchase of fresh flowers after a woman dropped a coin in the market place, “He doesn’t remember dropping his sister’s hand. The building shook with the blast. When he looked up, his sister was gone. Damir has read how Sarajevans painted red roses in the shell’s concrete scars. When his flowers wilt, the petals fall to the floor. Damir never picks them up.”
Most stories though are told from a woman’s viewpoint. The woman’s story starts with being a war reporter, in “Bulletproof” where “they loan me a flak jacket, a big blue thing designed for men. It squashes my shoulders, metal plates pinning flat my chest, breasts yielding to the weight of them.” Of course, she wears it for protection, but also because “there are more male journalists on the frontline than women, because men are better at the warry stuff, and women more lightweight. I wear it because I don’t want to rock the boat and give the news desk another reason not to send me to do this job. I wear it because I’ve told them I am the best ‘man’ for the job. I wear it because I want to be part of the solution and not part of the problem.” The problem isn’t that it’s ill-fitting or the sexism inherent in war-reporting but what it doesn’t protect her from: the very thing she’s there to report on.
The flak jacket doesn’t protect her from the slings and arrows she faces as a mother either. A partner who told her to terminate her pregnancy in “Before the Baby was Born”, snatches the baby “away before I had given up the afterbirth, puffed up with the pride of your achievement and offered her a stay of execution, but not me. While I lay wasted but for the great clots I bled, you announced you were hungry and wanted to go home, but not before I took her from you, clamped her to my empty breast, a lion mother born.” And so a woman who’d been controlled wrests back some of that control. In the title story, a woman (it could be the same narrator, the stories have a narrative flow to them), who has slipped away from abuse faces the judgment over who will be awarded responsibility for their daughter. She approaches the court door, “I open it slowly, the way I was taught to approach a checkpoint in war. My legs shake like they will later when I beg the judge to let me see my child. Like they did when I stood at her father’s door, asking for the same.”
She pauses for a moment in “Set Directions” to think about who she used to be when she, “stumbles to the loft one day, long after she has packed up her promise in the same yellowed paper; the woman who tried to find truth in fiction rather than fact, who fails to remember where the two converge. Now, she stands on the fault lines of her future and wonders what has happened to the fabric of her past.” The war reporter who became a mother and escaped abuse. The yellowed paper could hint at “The Yellow Wallpaper”, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s novella of post-natal psychosis and how a young mother was locked in a room until she learnt to mask her madness or let it kill her. Whereas her madness was a natural response to the trauma she’d faced at the hands of a patriarchal system that still doesn’t accommodate or listen to women.
“Octopus” is about the emotional labour and work shifted onto mothers but rarely expected of fathers. A young son, using a tea towel as a superhero cape, has accidently knocked into his younger sister, “With one arm, I pick up my son, another my distraught daughter. With a third, I untie the tea towel. A fourth mops the spilt drink. Two more sweep up the phone. Eight arms may be enough, but three hearts mean there will never be enough love left for me.”
In “The Thin Line Between Everything and Nothing”, Hannah Storm has created a series of flash fictions with an overall narrative arc which takes readers through war zones in foreign countries to domestic battles where the contributions of women, particularly mothers, are underrated and under-compensated. Mothers are left with the heft of domestic labour and raising children, which does come with non-financial rewards. The setting is contemporary and follows a narrator, scarred by what she has witnessed, as she tries to carve her own path through life, relying on her own agency.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.