Brooke Bolander’s work has been featured in Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Reflection’s Edge, Nightmare, and numerous anthologies, most recently The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. A graduate of the 2011 Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a Nebula Award finalist for 2016, she currently resides in New York with her partner and a very sulky Border Collie. Follow her at brookebolander.com or on Twitter @BBolander.
May you forever be fierce: a dangerous devotional
In the beginning—because everything has a beginning, just as surely as it has an end—dangerous women start out as dangerous girls.
Before they can walk, they crawl into forbidden places, reaching for things not made or meant for their grasp. This sets the tenor of their lives. They shed sailor suits and frilly dresses like cicada shells, careening bonelessly onwards while baffled parents pick up the sartorial trail.
Dangerous girls confound.
They want to be nurses when they grow up. They want to be teachers. They want to be comedians, astronauts, jockeys, tailors, sailors, biochemical engineers, ballet dancers, truckers, homemakers, archaeologists, mechanics, entomologists, etymologists, prospectors, private detectives, bakers, FBI agents, pirates, rock stars, movie gods. They want to be wolves. They want to be princesses. They want to be soldiers. They want to be soldier-princesses with bandoleers slung ‘round their tulle-wrapped hips who turn into wolves, defending the kingdom with blood on their teeth. They want the sky on a string. If string isn’t available, strong jaws will do.
Dangerous girls roll in mud puddles and dream of cityscapes. Their favorite color is purple. Their favorite color is kingfisher. Their favorite color is the smell of wet earthworms on summer morning pavement. They travel in packs. They sit alone in trees with their noses buried bookward and imagine turning into goshawks. They swim like fish and fight like alley cats and get straight As and straight Bs and straight frowny faces in ink the color of Kool-Aid and cardinal feathers.
They’re friends with the popular kids. They’re friends with the nerdy kids. All their friends are imaginary, because their clothes smell sour and their sweaters are pilled and their world is five nicotine-stained years out of date with four cardinal directions mapped out in the whorls of faux wood paneling and green-grubby shag carpeting.
They’re the man of the house. They’re mother to their siblings. They fetch tissues and migraine pills and glasses of water and glasses of whiskey and they know how their mother gets and where their father went and what a Final Notice in the post looks like. They were raised by their grandparents. They’re afraid of the dark but love the night sky.
Dangerous girls try on makeup with other girls at sleepovers, chattering like lipstick-smeared starlings until their parents tell them to go to bed already. Dangerous girls try on makeup surreptitiously behind closed bathroom doors and pray their parents never catch wind or see a smear of rouge. Dangerous girls notice boys. Dangerous girls notice girls. Dangerous girls notice everyone. Dangerous girls notice no-one at all and are pretty damned happy with it that way, thanks all the same.
Dangerous girls smoke behind the garden shed until their words have rough edges to snag lips and tongues like low-flying airplanes. Dangerous girls sing in the church choir, breed zebra finches, and skip school dances to stay home working on their latest cosplay project. They’re the only breadwinners for the family and their first car is a third-hand flatbed truck with a cab that smells like sunbaked naugahyde asshole.
Dangerous girls grow up and grow adult carapaces and become dangerous women, but the girl is always there at the centre; you can count the rings backward to see how old she is.
Dangerous women are happier alone. Dangerous women get hitched early on, because they have no other choice and nowhere to run. Dangerous women would like to get married, but can’t. Dangerous women love knowledge more than they fear taunts or stones or guns. They teach words, stories, histories. They teach. They lead cavalries into war, enjoy the smell of cordite, can hit a target cleanly from 15 yards. They’ve never touched a weapon in their blessed lives but excel at touching hearts, being constructed of compressed kindness the way a golem is made of clay. They’re always angry and their tongues have an edge like volcanic glass.
They dance like sin and grin like it, too.
They battle their bodies every day; sometimes they lose and sometimes they make the god-damned things get up and function through sheer cussedness, prize fighters pushing back off the mat. They’re terrible with kids. They make the best weird aunties in the world, their record collections unparalleled, the takeaway in their fridge eldritch. They shake shit up and take their thumbs off the neck before anyone knows what’s going on.
Dangerous women drink cheap beer well into their seventies and smoke cigarettes that somehow never stain their hands or clothes. They laugh loud enough that it’s almost (but not quite) annoying. They go to church every Sunday, light candles, pray for their families, and throw all the money they have in their pockets tinkling into the collection plate.
Dangerous women live alone and free and witchy in condos or sagging houses with gardens like hairy mole tufts. They have 12 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren and photos of every damn one of the little darlings stuffed inside their wallets, somehow. They live in a state of happy decrepitude with their partners and devote their time to feeding the less fortunate. They work on hot rods, papery skin stained with old oil, watched over by the blessed doe-eyed saints of Elvgren and Frahm. They win weightlifting competitions and triathlons. They have an impressive wig collection.
Their funerals are somber. Their funerals are second lines; every single person they ever knew and many more they didn’t show up to dance and claim a connection. Their deaths go unnoticed and unmourned—now you see them, now you don’t, gone like a magic trick or a Zen koan.
You are dangerous, whether or not you know it.
You have bright eyes and keen ears and pointed teeth with shreds of wishes between them. You are brave and cowardly and kind and selfish, trickster truth-teller sweetheart selfless narcissist. You’re an F5 tornado, inadvertently wrecking everything you whirl towards, leveling lives without thought or reason. You are a healer and a builder: callouses on your palms, splinters beneath your skin, hammer at your workbelt. You create. You destroy. You are as complex as any puzzle Daedalus ever dreamt up; there is a minotaur sleeping at your centre, and she’s got sharp horns and clever hands.
We only get one life, or so they say. You exist. May you always be dangerous.
Text copyright Brooke Bolander 2016