Genevieve Valentine is currently widely known as the victim of harassment at the center of the Readercon storm (which I will hopefully get to writing about this weekend). As much as that all needed talking about, it is Valentine’s writing for which she should be known. Her novel, Mechanique, haunted my Twitter feed as friends found it emotionally demanding but were unable to put it down until they’d finished it. Her new short story is very much like that.
The armless maiden has never spoken, that anyone has ever said, and someone would have said. There’s no need to tell strangers from Indianapolis about her, but she belongs to the town, sort of, and it’s nothing strange to talk about your own.
Suzanne from the hairdresser’s talked sometimes about how she couldn’t imagine how that poor girl was looking after herself, and how she’d go out to the woods asking if the maiden needed anything, except that it would be butting in. Usually she said this when she was cutting your hair; she said, “I hear she’s a blonde,” and then there was no sound in the whole place but her scissors, and you watched your hair falling and held your breath.
At least once every year, someone from the PTA stood up in a meeting and asked if she was still of the age where she needed to be in school, even though she’d been in the woods so long that even if she’d started out that young, she wasn’t now.
Tommy from the motel told everyone about the time the bird watchers came down to look for some warbler that was hard to find except in the forested region where they were, and ran into her, and got so frightened they left town without paying their bill. But they left most of their things in the room, too, so he sold the binoculars and the cameras and it came out all right.
He told the story like it was funny, how scared they had gotten, like any of them had ever really seen her and there was something to compare.
You start to think that you’re the only one who has ever seen her.
It’s a terrible thing to think, and you hope for a long time that it isn’t true, but in all the stories people tell about her, no one says a word about seeing her themselves. Maybe she’s just the kind of person whose privacy people respect, you think.
(But you know already, long before you admit it, that you’re the only one who’s ever seen her, and that she must be so lonely it makes your stomach hurt.
When she said hello, you’ve never heard anyone so surprised.)