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93 pages, Paperback
First published January 23, 2018
Each moonrise the metal bird in the box screams a mad musth cry. Like all Man-things, the bird is obsessed with the rising and setting of the sun. The night-whistle signals rest. The night-whistle signals a bag full of tasteless dried oats, a brief escape from sad dead girls and tormenting men, and four more wooden walls, the inside of a dry skull plugged tight with moldy hay and dung. She remembers a place where the Night was made of warm shuffle and star-graze, tearing up sweet wet grass by the trunkful with moonshaded Mothers when she was old enough to tooth. She remembers, but there is no sweet grass to tear up by the trunkful, so instead she thoughtfully tears apart her stall, board by splintered board. There will be a beating in the morning. There are always beatings in the morning.
“No matter what you did, forty or fifty or a hundred years passed and everything became a narrative to be toyed with, masters of media alchemy splitting the truth's nucleus into a ricocheting cascade reaction of diverging alternate realities.”
Kat grew up, as most America children did, associating elephants with the dangers of radiation.
In darkness she waited, O Mothers,
Tethered, tormented, fearless,
Waited for the many Men to gather
The way wind
Waits for lightning
The way rain
Holds for thunder
They came to watch her die, to smell her flesh burn,
To see a Great Mother laid low.
They gathered in great boasting bull herds
Like flies to dung,
Like hyenas to a sickness,
Yapping barking tussling.
Poor prideful, foolish things!
Stories, too, they discovered. But it was a funny thing: They were shattered into pieces, like the Great Mother who had scattered them, and no one tale held to the ear by itself could ever be fully understood. To make them whole required many voices entwined. Then and only then could we become the undying We, endless voices passing along the one song that is also Many.Set in an alternate reality where elephants - sentient and being able to communicate with humans - became associated with radium and the Radium Girls, the story is composed of several intertwining points of view, past and present combined. Kat, a scientist who wants to make elephants glowing wardens of the radioactive waste sites. Regan, a dying Radium Girl teaching an elephant to paint dials. Topsy herself, captive and angry and pitying humans. The elephant Mothers as a collective.
No matter what you did, forty or fifty or a hundred years passed and everything became a narrative to be toyed with, masters of media alchemy splitting the truth's nucleus into a ricocheting cascade reaction of diverging alternate realities.
In a history book swollen tick-tight with so many injustices the poisoning of a factory if girls and the mean public death of a small god don't even register as particularly noteworthy.