One of the stories I read was Sweet Pea, written by Ethel Rohan, who was born and raised in Dublin, but now resides in San Francisco. In this story, which is set in Ireland, the main (unnamed) character, a married woman raising a family, has an odd bit of anatomy, a white wing in place of her right shoulder blade. It's a very unusual and fascinating story, written in the first person, about this woman and her best friend, Betty, whose face glistens when she talks about her Sweet Pea plants, and who's building a dollhouse for her daughter, Melba. Like many close friends, the women have zany little adventures together, and take a trip at the suggestion of their husbands, to an IRA training camp in the forest, where they feel free enough to do handstands.
I was touched by this short story, which is about friendship, the passing of time, and loss. Since the author and I had been emailing back and forth, I asked her to tell me how she came up with the idea of the character's chicken-like wing. Ethel took my query a step further, and graciously elaborated on the inspiration behind Sweet Pea.
ER: The story was triggered by something my dad told me while I was in Ireland last summer. He's an avid gardener and has the most amazing Sweet Pea plant in the back garden. The bright green and baby pink Sweet Pea climbs right up the back wall of his house. Dad described how the Sweet Pea grows tall and straight, and that it's only if and when the plant comes in contact with another flower or plant that it curls round and round that other object. That was the kernel that kicked off the story. Then, shortly after our return from Ireland, my husband built the most amazing wooden dollhouse for our daughter, so that was the second trigger for the story. As for the rest, the characters and ideas flowed right out.
Interestingly, I read the story a few months ago when I was in New York and afterwards one of the audience members said, "You got that white wing idea from Nights of the Circus!" I HAD read and loved Angela Carter's novel, Nights of the Circus, years ago while in college and had entirely forgotten that book and the white wing. So who knows what influences and stays at the subconscious level. There's also of course Gabriel Garcia Marquez's short story, A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings, that I also love and that no doubt helped fuel this story. There are so many books I've read but have largely forgotten. It's heartening to think that we never really forget these stories we read and that the works continue to nourish us long after (we think!) we've left them behind.
As always, your comments are welcomed.