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Ambiguous Asymmetries

The reviewer objected to the story’s ambiguity. He said his footing was off, as if he’d missed a stair. That analogy caught me, and I felt that moment of uncertainty, of limbo perhaps. Of course, when we literally miss a stair, gravity quickly provides the consequence. Whether landing safely on our feet or crashing down with a broken wrist, the act is complete. There’s no ambiguity—the moment is finished and so balance is restored. We, then, act on the consequences, continue forward. It’s how the world moves.

There’s symmetry in action and reaction. But what if in a story, a poem, a piece of art, that moment of uncertainty and imbalance can be expanded, catching the reader in an asymmetrical dimension, on tilt?

I return to the missed stair and ask you, reader, What if the story paused in that moment of imbalance? A woman wears a gown too long. She’s neither young nor old. In silk stockings her heel slips, and she thinks, No! I can’t fall! She begs the universe to stop the falling. A hand reaches out to take hers. My hand, your hand, each reader’s hand. The story gives us this woman in a gown and stockings slipping off the stair and living the moment in a thousand different reactions.

Her name is Lyra or Celeste or Sandra or something less or more familiar and her hair not yet distinct. Before the misstep, she was smiling at the top of the landing. Her head was turned back a little as if saying a last word to someone or hearing the last funny quip that sent her on a quick and light descent. In limbo, before the reaction, the echo of her laughter circles but grows more distant at each revolution. In it, you can hear the laughter of all people in all time, centuries past and centuries into the future.

The light has dimmed from the room she was in, fingers trailing her arm as she leaves, her gown trailing the floorboards. The room now embraces the silence of comforters and curtains, of clothes across the chair. Is there any sound but the one caught in this moment? At the nucleus of the circling laughter is her gasp and your hand.

The room will hold her seated imprint on the corner chair for the length of time it takes compressed microfibers to expand. Action and reaction, the symmetry of waves come and recede. The polished dresser will hold a handprint, warm under the arousal of witticisms, and the runner at the doorway, stockinged footprints and shoed. Again for only so long.

The light is faint now, thinning as it expands. All light from all time recedes. Because here we are in reality, snug in chronology, and moments must be complete. Actions must have reactions. Her gasp pounds now, the nucleus like a star ready to implode. And here you are. She is waiting in the reverberations of her gasp for your reaction to release the story.

Ambiguity—I believe it calls on you to restore the symmetry. Has your foot yet reached the stair?





Patricia J. Esposito‘s fiction and poetry appear in numerous anthologies, including Main Street Rag’s Crossing Lines, Cohesion Press’s Blurring the Line, AnnaPurna’s Clarify, Timbre’s Stories of Music, and Undertow’s Apparitions, and in magazines, including Litro USA, Karamu, Rose and Thorn, Not One of Us, Midnight Street, and Clean Sheets. She has received honorable mentions in Datlow’s Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror collections, is a two-time winner of Rhino’s Reader=Writer award, and is a Pushcart Prize nominee.