June 21, 2020 by The Citron Review
It has finally happened: my boys have discovered video games. In February, my oldest pulled together his savings and birthday money and purchased a Nintendo Switch. At first, their play was limited to breaks between activities and school work. Then quarantine hit. Soon, we were sitting around the living room playing or watching each other play Mario Kart and Zelda. The games became something we could do together. It’s funny how the games came flooding back: the music you knew by heart or secret levels that took ages to uncover as children, but as adults still feel magical.
But, I wonder, will it only be the video games they remember? They are still young–nine, seven, and five. They know the words coronavirus and protest, but our conversations have been more local: what can they do to be healthy, conscientious, and kind. We have had big conversations in our house, shed tears about what is happening in the world. Part of me, like most parents, worries I am not doing or saying enough. The other part of me is aware of protecting the balance of their innocence and my responsibility to equip them with tools for becoming better men.
It is with this heaviness that I turned to my other escape: reading fiction for Citron. Many pieces in this issue are the right combination of storytelling with a hint of universal darkness that is the human condition, which is exactly how my family might remember this time. Remember when we played a lot of video games and the world was on fire?
In “Oisín” by Dan Johnson, a young boy comes to terms with who he is and his place in the world while invoking Irish folklore and beautiful imagery of the ocean at night. Nature is as much a character as the narrator, and Johnson’s use of setting tempts us into the space as much as if we are on a beach. But it is the ghostly beauty of the piece that solidified our selection of the piece and a ten-year-old’s belief that “the will of God be done” that lingers with us.
The same juxtaposition of nature and youth can also be found in both “You Scamper” by Allie Mariano and “Oarfish” by Anna Gates Ha. Here, a squirrel and an oarfish are central to the action, but it is the reflections of the young narrators that make the work outstanding. In both pieces, Mariano and Ha, respectively, employ narrators who understand a lot about themselves and the world around them—while not being able to articulate those precise feelings.
Watching and understanding the world as it plays out is also explored in “From the City of Things Finished” by Jared Graham. This time, the narrator is on the other end of life and more of an observer than a participant. The tone of the observations is what struck a chord with the fiction team, the idea that this old man “was not regretful but nostalgic—like any man who was content but whose strength and virility were gone like any man who saw of the future only the pains and impotency of old age.” This kind of fiction reminds us of the fragility of the human condition.
“Semicolon” by Mandira Pattnaik follows a similar tone. Here, a woman named Jo reflects on a now defunct relationship while worrying about the what-ifs or what could have been. What made this piece stand out to the fiction team is the characterization of Jo through her observation of details. The story is bookended with an image of fire ants moving across parts of her bedroom. This small detail becomes a powerful metaphor for the life Jo is living.
To round out our selections for this summer issue, “Joyride” by Sarah Starr Murphy shows a well-meaning but tired teacher who loses her car to some rowdy students who secretly commandeered the keys. Not only is this story well written, but it also realizes the dream of many a student: play a prank on a teacher that will long be remembered as rumor and then lore. Even though no one would want to be the teacher in this situation, we could not help but smile when reading this piece.
And so, the fiction team is proud to present you with six tales to inspire and inform, to provide some relief during this painful, enlightening time. I hope you enjoy them.
Elizabeth De Arcos
Senior Fiction Editor
The Citron Review