All Her Names by Kali Fajardo-Anstine, 2016
The magic trick:
Capturing a rarely showcased theme in a singularly evocative scene
OK, so “Sisters,” featured yesterday on SSMT, tapped into the theme of a woman’s dependence on men for money and status – particularly as it relates to the women of Latina and indigenous heritage that Fajardo-Anstine often writes about.
In “Sisters,” we met Doty, who rejects the premise and is rewarded by being assaulted by a man and losing her sight.
In “All Her Names,” our protagonist has embraced the notion. She met and married an older, wealthier white man, and her reward is a fancy house and a stable life.
She’s not happy though. She calls her ex-boyfriend whenever her husband is out of town and returns to her previous identity for at least a few hours.
So the story becomes a beautiful and exceptionally sad portrait of identity crisis created by a racist, mean, capitalist society.
The topic alone sets the story apart as being special.
But the scene in the trainyard, where Alicia and Michael are tagging trains, is really an amazing evocation of all these ideas and what is lost when we are forced (or at least strongly encouraged) to forgo who we really are.
And that’s quite a trick on Fajardo-Anstine’s part.
“Half finished. You still on your second letter?”
“My dash. The edges are so clean, so nice. You wouldn’t know about it.”
Michael shook his can, started again. “Oh, Cia. I know about that dash.”
“You’re an idiot.”
“I know,” Michael said with pride.
A low vibration rattled the track. A ghost train rolling. An engine firing. Michael and Alicia stiffened as they examined the rails. They once knew a kid who died in the yards. He wasn’t much older than sixteen. It was the middle of summer, early at night. The bull hadn’t come out to patrol. The kid was painting a train when he took a step back and a single freight rolled over him. Word spread among crews, and some kids visited the unfinished signature, painting their wishes in black. A poem appeared. May your journey be an endless track. / may your trains keep rolling / may your name be completed when you’re back.
Alicia kicked the freight, a booming sound. “Someone’s been practicing.”
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