“Body, Remember” by Nicasio Andres Reed (2021 Ignyte Awards)

“Body, Remember” can be read online at Fireside Magazine.

Archaeologist Jun Meyers is staying in Italy to examine the ruins of a city buried Pompeii-like beneath a layer of volcanic debris. Jun is, in more than one way, a misfit. He struggles with Italian, despite having been in the country for three years; he also has trouble getting on with his colleagues, who find some of his attitudes towards his chosen discipline to be unorthodox:

Jun’s desire for modern urban amenities is the source of some disdain from his colleagues. He’s heard Liz warning the newest intern not to engage him on his grand theory of history: that these things are the point of their work, that the present is the point of the past. That the people whose bones they treasure so selfishly would mean less were it not for the things that separate us from them. That it isn’t the ancient in itself that is sublime, but rather the act of wiping the dust of the ancient from your hands, walking into a halogen-lit 24-hour 7-11 for an energy drink, and later ridding yourself of it down a flush toilet.

All of this is intercut with a narrative set during Jun’s teenage years. He has come out as transgender and faces hostility from his parents, who are implied to be Filipino immigrants to the United States. A duel-layered story of assimilation versus individuality plays out here, the parents’ adaptation to American life contrasting with Jun’s refusal to live as a woman (“I’m sorry if you couldn’t be who you really are”, says Jun to hus father, “But I won’t do that to myself”). The theme reverberates in the story’s present: Jun divides the inhabitants of Ossuaria between those who fled and lived, and those who stayed behind to be entombed.

The fantastic aspects of “Body, Remember” are minor. The author’s decision to use a fictitious analogue to Pompeii could be called a speculative element, although it is an arbitrary one: given that new areas of Pompeii have been uncovered as recently as 2018, the actual city could easily have been used as a setting. The story’s main claim to being fantasy is the very last scene, where Jun hears a voice that has been hinted at earlier in the story: the voice of a long-dead Ossuarian child, admonishing him to keep on running no matter the cost; a voice that can be taken as literally or figuratively as the reader prefers.

Author Nicasio Andres Reed makes use of some vivid imagery (“He looks like a mantis there, sharp and long with adolescence”) but still more effective is the story’s use of sound. We read of a volcano breathing, the sea gulping at darkness, a cat mimicking a human voice, along with stretches of silence where these word-sounds are conspicuous in their absence. All of this prepares just the right acoustics for the most haunting sound – the child-voice, the history-voice – which is conveyed through the gentlest of implications.

“Body, Remember” is short in length, slight in narrative and minimal in its use of fantasy. But a light touch can have a heavy impact – and a quiet voice can most definitely reverberate.

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