This story started the way most of my stories do, with a bizarre opening image and a possible ending action: in this case, the bee feast and a rock to the head. I am of the mind that a story’s ending should speak to its beginning, and vice versa, and so my writing brain immediately connects these two narrative elements. My stories are imperfect babies, clutching their own feet. But then there’s the vast chasm of the in-between bits.
I’m never entirely sure what my stories will be about. I let them spring out of that initial image, which is usually something mundanely bizarre that I’ve observed in real life. The bizarre almost always instigates my writing, but it must be a brand of bizarre that’s possible in the real world. Building the story is about laying bricks that are familiar to me. Cat is the daughter of a priest, thinking herself a Good Girl™ and having much trouble letting that moniker go as she grows into womanhood, not really wanting or knowing how or when to grow into womanhood, not knowing how womanhood is different from girlhood, not knowing who she will be as a woman while also not knowing who she should be as a girl. Though Cat and I are not the same, these are struggles we both know well.
Cat defines herself through the church, and through the lens with which she’s viewed by her parents and her father’s congregation. She’s becoming aware, all at once, that as she grows, the way others value her will shift, especially as someone in a female body. She’s caught between these opposing value systems, and she’s not sure which one she wants to give weight to yet. The inciting tension for her uneasiness is the conflict with her parents, simmering under the surface of the narrative. Cat’s parents are afraid to be witnessed in their imperfection, because they are moral examples for their community. Cat, likewise, is terrified to be witnessed. So much so that she cannot even witness herself. This tension is deepened by the change in her friends, as their value systems have already shifted. Their wealth, their physical appearance, the attention of boys, the destruction of imagination.
In the end, Cat doesn’t throw her rock because she is jealous that Willa is kissing Logan. She throws her rock because something has been taken from her. She has lost something essential to herself and, in the process, made herself vulnerable in a way she has never before been. She has lost the myth of herself, the story she has told to herself about herself for her entire life.
I wanted this story to ask: When is the right time to grow out of childhood? And when our own false image of ourselves dies, what are we left with? And to those questions, I hope the story provides no answers, since I don’t think these questions can be answered. I hope the idea of growing out of childhood in general fills all of us with rage. Because the alternative, adulthood (and gendered adulthood at that), is the destruction of creativity and the destruction of the bizarre.
CAITLIN RAE TAYLOR is a writer, editor, and designer based in the southern United States. She earned her MFA in fiction from the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she served as the fiction editor for Ecotone and the publishing assistant for Lookout Books. She has also worked with nonprofit press Milkweed Editions and was a resident at the Taleamor Park Writers and Artists Residency near La Porte, Indiana. She is currently the editor of Southern Humanities Review and the art director/designer for Press Pause Press. Her fiction, book reviews, and interviews can be found or are forthcoming in Cotton Xenomorph, Pacifica Literary Review, The Adroit Journal, Hobart, Moon City Review, the Alabama Writers’ Forum, Southern Humanities Review online, and Germ Magazine. She is at work on a short story collection.