I thought I'd have some guest pieces to celebrate the release of Trying To Be So Quiet, and I wanted to feature some writers that I've not had on the blog before. The theme came to me when Claire, who works for Boo Books, was interviewing me about TTBSQ and said she thought it was a love story as much as a ghost story. So a plan was born: I'd ask some horror writers who I especially admire to write a piece about their favourite love story. It could be a novel, poem, song; it could be happy, sad or despairing. First up:
Kristi DeMeester is a short story writer who's appeared in the likes of Black Static, Year's Best Weird Fiction and The Dark, and deservedly so because her stories are always bloody ace. (She had entries in both my 2014 and 2015 favourite short story lists).
Take it away, Kristi:
“Walking the Haunted Wood” by Kristi DeMeester
My first literary crush was Gilbert Blythe. With his acidic and then apologetic teasing of the future red-headed knock out Anne Shirley, he reminded me very much of the boys in my own elementary school classes. We fought over who was the fastest runner and spent ourselves racing across the concrete parking lot of our school and ignoring skinned knees and aching lungs. We competed for the highest grades, for accolades, for smiles from our teachers when we stood and teased Bible verses from our memories and delivered them with perfect inflection. During the day, we’d insult each other in the only way Fundamentalist Christian children know how.
“Not even dogs like you,” I said once.
The boy’s lip quivered before he hissed back. “You look like you don’t wash your hair.”
We spent our days fighting and competing, but at night, I’d lie awake and burn and burn, wondering what it would be like to touch their hands, their faces. What it would be like if we grew up and one of them decided to marry me.
More than anything, however, I loved Gilbert Blythe because he was good. The streak of cruelty that was the underlying chorus of my childhood was absent from his life in Avonlea. He and Anne belonged to an alien set of people who were genuinely kind and should they do wrong, they’d stew in regret, apologize, and mean it. He did not scream or push or threaten or raise his hand in anger. Gilbert and Anne were everything my mother and father weren’t.
And so I fell in love with Gilbert and his dark, curling hair and his hazel eyes and boyish charm. More than anything, I wanted him to show up at my doorstep, his arms full of starflowers, and take me away from the nightmare world my parents had spent their lives building and then forced their children to occupy. His hands would be gentle, and he would sweep my hair behind my ear, and press his lips to my cheek, and our love would be pure, and chaste, and sweet.
I grew up. My parents divorced, and I saw firsthand the ramifications of what it meant to love someone. The brokenness that follows. I longed for Avonlea. Longed to pull those flowing dresses over my head and to go traipsing through Hester Gray’s garden while Gilbert ran ahead of me, everything sun dappled and smelling of dust and overripe apples. Longed for a love that was so simple that it felt like breathing instead of like razor blades pressed to thin skin.
By the time boys were interested in me, I’d pushed Gilbert Blythe to the back of my mind in favor of the feeling of warm hands against the curve of my back and lips pressed too hard against mine. There was a feeling I was trying to capture, a romantic ideal that faded like smoke, and when I couldn’t find it, I found other things. Other ways of chasing after the sense of breathlessness and desire I thought meant something greater than the sum of its parts.
I got older. I married a wonderful man, and he is everything I need when life is easy. He makes me laugh in a way I didn’t know I could. He’s held my hand and pulled me out of dark water.
But he isn’t Gilbert Blythe. He’s real, and he’s honest when I don’t want him to be. He does stupid things like buying yet another project vehicle to “fix up in his spare time.” He argues, and he’s stubborn, and he keeps his dirty laundry piled neatly next to our bed instead of putting it in the hamper. He throws our child into the air high enough to give me heart palpitations. He rolls his eyes when I start crying. Again. For the thousandth time that week.
And I love him. Oh, oh! How I love him.