I started writing this story a few months before the Terry Schiavo travesty percolated back into the news, and though I started sending it out shortly before that wave crested I don’t think I was influenced by it. I certainly tried not to be.
Instead, this little nightmare started with the dream the narrator describes in the middle of the piece. It’s one in a series of dark little stories that started as nightmares; I’ve never been much for the surrealist project, though I do like Nathaniel West and Barbara Gowdy quite a lot. It was a useful exercise to try building a story around a dream; it helped me loosen out of the straitjacket I put on when I write, cinched up by too much Carver and Cheever and Updike.
This story is also, obviously and explicity, about sex. That was new, too. While some of my stories have alluded to sex, the camera has always drifted away before it starts or started rolling after it ends. In this story, the camera is very much in the scene the whole time, and I don’t think it would be at all the same story if it weren’t.
Writing about sex was difficult because, let’s face it, there aren’t that many ways to describe the various acts people perform. I wanted to avoid the two most common modes–the flowery romance “quivering womanhood” and the blow-by-blow porn “he inserted tab A into slot B”–without being prudish. And I think I succeeded in not being prudish, at least, though I don’t think I advanced the language of sex. I’m no Henry Miller.
For me, sex in fiction is about context. And this story is all about context. Without the strange and disturbing situation, and the unspoken subtext of Gretchen’s relationship to Margaret, the sex acts would have been meaningless. There’s a scary desperation in Gretchen, as if she’s equally trapped as Margaret, and the narrator seems rather helpless himself, caught in Gretchen’s strange dynamic.
The title is the name of the evil fairy in one version of “Sleeping Beauty.” I think this story is more Gretchen’s than the narrator’s, and certainly more than Margaret’s. And while I’m not sure Gretchen is Carabosse, I think she sees herself that way. May even want to be that way.
So I hope you enjoy this dark and sexy (I’m not sure “sexy” in a positive way, though) story. It’s not quite in the same vein as the rest, but I stand by it all the same.