It’s live! Woo!
This tale was inspired by two articles. The first was about a woman who was found dead in a hospital stairwell. The second was about the folks who clean up crime scenes after the investigation has concluded. The combination of care and neglect when we’re at our most vulnerable (in a hospital, at home, among family) percolated into this story. I wanted to look the ugly, unspoken thing in the face — like the limits of care, and what happens when we reach those limits and start to fail. Who cares for the caregiver, kind of thing.
When I first drafted this story in 2015, I was also thinking about sensory overwhelm and emotional burnout on the part of the caretakers. Hrisa had always been sensitive to sound, and moved from the role of surgeon to death cleaner because she couldn’t handle it anymore. In the original version, she had an assistant named Gurna. A childhood accident had left Gurna without a nose, so while both Hrisa and Gurna had trouble being part of society, they found work that suited them. Hrisa was meant to make Gurna tougher, and Gurna pushed back when Hrisa’s desire to protect herself soured into actual cruelty.
The discussion about the veil, and whether to hide one’s face, is a remnant of that relationship, and the ways in which we normalize or reject shame.
I was just beginning with short fiction in those days, and this was the first story where I relaxed my grip a little and spent more time with the environment and the feelings of the characters. The wordcount was far too high to sell as a result, and that’s when Gurna was cut. It gave the other characters more presence and agency.
Fun fact, it turns out that the guy in the article about cleaners is a friend of a friend from the days I lived in New York. I’m kicking myself for not knowing this connection earlier. I would have liked to ask about materials and process.
Thanks also to Nick Mamatas’s Fabulist Fiction class, for helping me streamline this piece into something publishable.
P.S., I now have a ko-fi! If you’d like to leave a dollar in the tip jar, please do so here.