WE ARE PART OF THIS - A Short Story by Ruby Cowling - October 30, 2017 - first published in The Forge
You can read today’s story here
“We Are Part of This” is included in Ruby Cowling’s collection of short stories, This Paradise. This makes the third story by Ruby Cowling upon which I have posted.
As the story opens, we are with a group of women who are on some sort of retreat, a common corporate thing in pre-pandemic days:
“We sit in our circle of twelve, working on our dolls, the dinky central fire doing its best against the April damp. Then Greta puts on her robe and leaves the tent to do her holy things, and as always, Phil follows. We stretch, look at each other, and scurry down to the illicit realm of chat.
We determine that a) today must be Tuesday; b) everyone has a battering headache (except Jeanette, who never touches caffeine); and c) no, it’s not our imagination: the rain hasn’t stopped since Sunday night. It was soothing at first, coming in waves, cycles, but its failure to stop—ever—has begun to feel personal. It’s pittered, pattered, petered out only to peter back in. It’s settled and softened to a radio fuzz, lulling us into stepping outside, soaking us through before we realise. At other times it’s hardened suddenly, becoming a pelting, hammering harbinger on the put-upon canvas, and we’ve had to shout.
We’ve been on this camp since Saturday. We dream of hot showers, our own pillows, food you don’t eat with a spoon”
The story, narrated by a participant,evolves into the women trying to see what they are supposed to get out of the experience. The story is a painfully accurate satire of political correctness in the coporate world:
“We don’t know exactly what we’ll be doing—it’s been trailed only as a celebration of femininity: fecundity, friendship, general non-penile things—but we do know we will have to take the risk of expressing ourselves, perhaps through dance, or spontaneous poetry. We might have to take our clothes off. We’re already referring to it as The Big One, and it looms like a bear.”
The director’s helper, a man, is called her “right hand woman”, I laughed and groaned over this, having worked in the corporate world.
As the story goes on the women, who paid £500 for the retreat, work on their dolls. The big finale for the retreat is the presentation of the finished dolls.
There is a lot in this story. The characters are well developed and each is unique.
I really enjoyed this story, it is funny and wise. It is lightly mocking in tone puncturing pretensions.
Maybe retreats like this are now out of the picture as we enter a new “normal”.
Ruby Cowling was born in Bradford and now lives in London. This Paradise is her first book. Her stories have won The White Review Prize (2014) and the London Short Story Prize (2014) among others and been widely published in journals and anthologies, including Lighthouse, The Letters Page, Unthology, and The Lonely Crowd. .
Print Media Praise
‘Admirably ambitious in scope, Ruby Cowling explores big themes – climate change and natural disaster, technology and survival – using strange and sometimes fantastical imagery to trace the obscure edges of human experience.’ Alice Ash, Times Literary Supplement
‘The most original short stories I’ve read in a long time … current, entertaining, and relevant. Highly recommended.’ Jimena Gorraez, Litro
‘The range of Cowling’s style and subject matter is impressive … This Paradise is a beautiful and highly original collection.’ The Spectator
‘Ruby Cowling offers a call-to-arms, an urgent encouragement to breathe complexity back into a human experience made simple. We will be recorded, we will be flattened and reduced. But we can record too.’ Jon Doyle, Review 31
‘Most stories have their ‘home’ audience. But when fiction crosses that inner ring, and survives to tell its tale, well – that’s art. And This Paradise achieves that handsomely.’
Tamim Sadikali, Open Pen
I hope to post on many more works by Ruby Cowling.