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I killed my boy on a trip down the stairs. #Writing

By 07/09/2015January 2nd, 2021writing
Blue Stem Magazine, Blue Stem, Damyanti Biswas

Bear with Me: Adversity Makes Strange Bedfellows

I don’t, as a rule, share much about my publications here, other than to update the Published Fiction page.

But the recent-most piece that is out this month at the Bluestem Magazine, run by the English Department at Eastern Illinois University, has an inspiration I want to share with you all: Adversity Makes Strange Bedfellows, a strange but arresting work by artist and photographer Gregori Malofis.

My story came from this picture to the left, (a writing prompt from some very kind fellow writers, who also went on to crit the piece for me), and from stitched up, hushed anecdotes of miscarriages from various mothers. No relation at all to my real life. It is as if all those stories were waiting for me to find this picture, and tell this story.

I’m not sharing the story here because some of the language isn’t PG13, but would love to hear what you make of it.

Here it is: Bear With Me.

It begins like this:

I killed my boy on a trip down the stairs.

Did you read it? Did you find the story too feminine, or uncomfortable? What sort of questions do you have about the Bear in the story? Anything about the piece that stayed with you? What would you change?

Please join Daily (w)rite on its Facebook Page in case you don’t blog, but would still like to be heard by this community. You can also comment on the story here.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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52 Comments

  • Jack Shalom says:

    I loved the story and the way you told it. Language, structure, tone.

    And the audio performance was equally impressive. Not every author reads well; I thought your performance was exceptional, exactly the right size and depth for audio, and for the piece.

  • VixyQ says:

    Very good. Your writing is captivating. Well done.

  • Great story – I thought you did a great job capturing her sense of loss as well as her progressively declining spiral. I loved the last line – very chilling.

  • Wow! I want to write like you when I grow up. The emotional draw is amazing. I felt like I was there and could definitely feel her pain, and the bear’s presence.
    Thank you for this!

  • This was so beautiful! <3

  • Yogini says:

    What a great story Damyanti!! Not feminine, but quite sad and disturbing. But I loved the story narration 🙂 more power to you!
    Regards,
    Yogini

  • thewriteedge says:

    Haunting and tragic and beautiful all at the same time. You did a wonderful job; congratulations!

  • Lauren Mead says:

    Damyanti, it’s funny that you should mention this piece, because I happened upon this short story quite randomly while reading through some literary magazines the other day and couldn’t stop reading! I really enjoyed your short story 🙂
    Congrats on getting published 🙂

  • Damyanti:

    What a great story. Hands down, just fantastic. I read a lot of short work, and generally speaking, the fiction I find in literary journals is a real snooze. Slow, plodding, and poorly written. Imagine my surprise in discovering your piece, which was delightful and haunting.

    You have a real gift for sneaking up on the reader. The trick you pull off here with the bear, I’ve seen the same thing mishandled by other writers, but you do it beautifully. That takes control and craft.

    Addressing your questions: Too feminine? How so? Because so many of the details address pregnancy and motherhood? I wouldn’t worry. Details themselves don’t make a story either feminine or masculine.

    I don’t have any questions about the bear. I didn’t find myself confused, although I read a fair amount of “magical realism” and have grown used to odd occurrences in stories.

    What sticks with me: since I’m a writer myself, I appreciate your subtle and playful use of the language. “A trip down the stair” with its double meaning, and the similar play on the word Bear, both in its literal meaning and the “cross to bear” the narrator now faces as a “failed” mother. I appreciate your humor (I cracked up when she started looking for shows about grizzlies going extinct). But mostly I find myself moved by the story, this haunting spiral into delusion.

    You’ve got a bright future.

    As a side note, I came across your site when you “liked” my own piece on my website (tylermillerwrites.com). I’m glad you enjoyed the list of short story titles. I gave your story a shout out on Twitter and posted some links to it on my Google+. I hope it draws attention to your work.

    I look forward to reading more of your work.

    • Damyanti says:

      Tyler, this is such a thoughtful comment, and thankyou for noticing all the little details and layers in the story. I spent many hours tweaking the language, and it is a pleasure to find a reader who gets it on so many levels. I suffer from major and frequent bouts of self-doubt, and i plan to stick quotes from this comment on my wall in order to help me through them.

      As an untrained writer, I try hard to perfect my craft, and it is heartening to know I’m taking steps in the right direction.

  • Gonna read it at night, Damyanti. Keep writing:)

  • macjam47 says:

    I loved it. It is so compelling and beautifully written.

  • Hi Damyanti,

    The story is most intriguing for it depth and I wrote a long comment on the story page itself. I’m not sure what you mean when you say feminine. Not a term I’m used to with regard to a writing style. Apologize for my ignorance.

  • I never once thought it was too feminine. Very tragic tone, and what an abstract way to portray desperation and loss. The bear confused me, but I think in the way it was supposed to. A part of me wondered if Dave was the bear, and maybe that’s what you intended? The husband definitely comes across as cold… the character development was realistic.

  • I don’t see why anyone would feel uncomfortable reading this. Life doesn’t always perform nicely and we are often unwilling participants. I like reality.

  • Lovely! Though sad, I certainly found it compelling,

  • mdellert says:

    I love this piece. Literature is a conversation between authors in the minds of their readers, and reading this is like Damyanti and Charlotte Gilman are having tea together in my mind. It’s evocative of Charlotte Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper,” another tale of a woman “not taken seriously” despite a crippling mental illness that is largely imposed upon her by the patriarchal attitudes of her culture.

    In this case, the mental illness is occasioned by the trauma of miscarriage through which Mia suffers, and that illness is exacerbated by the indifference of a husband who has clearly weighed and measured her “as a woman” and found her wanting (according to his own patriarchal definition of womanhood’s value). Her protest, “You’re not listening,” is met with coldness, “We’re paying a professional to listen to you.”

    I also love the suspense, the rising tension. There are hints and allegations in the text of the transposition of the bear and the husband. Is the bear nothing more than a delusion, a figment of her traumatized mind, or is the bear a mental construction hiding the “real” bear, the true threat, her own husband? Did the husband have something to do with the miscarriage? Was it abuse that brought Mia to catastrophe at the bottom of the stairs?

    Such an elegantly told story. Bravo.

    • Damyanti says:

      Michael, thanks for your long, and well-considered comment.

      I read Yellow Wallpaper as a result of our conversation and that was time well-spent in learning from one of the masters of the craft. Will read more of Gilman.

  • Arpita says:

    Having never known such a thing up close, it was different for me to read this piece. But I can thoroughly relate to the void that the miscarriage created in Mia and how she wants to fill it with her delusions. Beautiful rendering!

  • oshrivastava says:

    Reblogged this on oshriradhekrishnabole.

  • artman413 says:

    This was a very dark and disturbing story. I didn’t find it too ‘feminine’ at all. Rather, I thought it was very human.

    I suppose the ‘feminine’ aspect comes in because I cannot fully relate to a miscarriage. But the sense of loss, the way life feels so empty and surreal afterward, these are things I’ve experienced, and I can empathize.

    The bear was another unsettling element that further added to the surreality of it. I’m still a little lost on what exactly the bear represented: her guilt, or how she views her husband in the aftermath of the miscarriage. I suppose it’s both, really.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thank you for your careful reading.
      It could be both, depending on the reader, and the interpretation. I believe in letting a few ends of my story be completed in the mind of the reader. The idea is to give the reader an experience, and then let him or her form their own opinions.

      • artman413 says:

        And it really is a remarkable experience.

        My brain has a tendency to always seek the ‘right’ answer in any situation, so an open-ended narrative leaves it befuddled. I tend to worry that I may have the ‘wrong’ interpretation.

        I need to make myself understand that a story isn’t always defined by rigid boundaries. Sometimes, it is all about the experience and the emotional journey it takes you on. Whatever destination you arrive at is, by default, the correct one, because it is your own. Accepting that level of interpretation is still a work in progress. 🙂

  • blondeusk says:

    Wow! What a disturbing and thought provoking piece. I felt like I was there with her at times. It is heart breaking but you write beautifully.

  • Lata Wonders says:

    A story that disturbs on many levels, Damyanti. That’s the hallmark of a talented writer:)

  • It’s heart breaking, and raw, and beautiful. You’ve shown us how a mind can fracture, and how grief can turn on us.

  • Karen Shei says:

    Sorry, hit reply before I finished.

    If anything, for me it feels like a feminist piece in that her grief is acknowledged, no matter how skewed. For some, conceiving is not easy and natural. It’s hard work and sometimes heartbreaking. To lose it, even more so.

    I like that there was blame, it makes the grief more real. And optimistically, I felt there was a bit of affection for the bear in there, even if she did want to stick him.

  • Karen Shei says:

    I love it.

  • Richard says:

    I would take issue with some of the tenses here, just very minor changes.

    I disagree with some of the other critics, Damyanti. The woman doesn’t have the strength to kill Dave, but her delusions – brought on by a loss of will to face reality due to the trauma she undergoes – will empower her to kill the bear.

    Dave laughs at her efforts to conceive; it’s clear what kind of chap he is. Good grief, the comedian’s a bear! No he’s a-not! He’s a-wearing a neck-a-tie!

    I really didn’t pull it all together the way I should have done – but I am a very literal reader so it takes a while for the penny to drop with me. The gruff-voiced Dave is a neat trick, and it’s clearly the impressive kind of story that benefits from a second reading, although it’s perfect after a first reading.

    Also, at first, I was taken aback by the offhand manner in which your heroine describes her loss. Very matter-of-fact. But it makes complete sense once you realise how fragile she is mentally and emotionally. But it’s terrifically nuanced. Super dooper stuff.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thank you Richard. The change in tenses is very deliberate, to burn the language to show the delusion. But if you noticed it, I wasn’t doing my job well 🙂

      Thank you for catching all the nuances I was attempting. While the bear didn’t change from the 1st draft to the last, the woman and her intentions did. Yes, I’ve tried to keep it all very subtle, but I was worried I’d overdone it. Thank you for reassuring me I haven’t.

      And of course what writer doesn’t love praise? Thank you for your kindness.

  • rcasey89 says:

    I loved it. Definitely not too feminine. Haunting is how I would describe it, it’s definitely a story that will stay with me. The bear is used fantastically, the hints of domestic violence are subtle but they do hit you hard. Brilliant story.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thankyou, Rachel. Every writer hopes to write stories that would stay with the reader: the story touched you at all the points I was attempting, so that makes me glad.

  • Very brave writing Damyanti.

  • She thinks her husband pushed her down the stairs? Wow. That’s some serious grief.

  • I did read the story. I agree with richardrensberry that the woman could have been stronger. However, since this is a brief insight into one tragic event during this character’s life, the story still works for me. I like that you addressed this taboo topic frankly and honestly. I sympathized with this woman’s grief and feelings of shame. It made me sad, but not uncomfortable.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thank you for reading, Claire. I don’t see why it should be a taboo topic, too many women go through it– and fiction can’t just address certain aspects of life, and ignore others.

      Any loss deserves the forum for the sharing of it, and the loss of a child even more so, thanks for following this woman’s journey.

      • I agree completely. I’m noticing more women taking ownership of their own stories and expressing themselves on subjects that have previously just been whispered about between sisters. I think part of that is bold writers like yourself starting the conversation and creating that forum. Thank You!

        • Damyanti says:

          Claire, I’m not sure I’ve been bold, or just been honest to everything I’ve heard.

          Miscarriage is a physically and mentally traumatizing experience, and the sufferers don’t realize that it is quite common. About one in five pregnancies end in miscarriage, and all you hear about it is hushed whispers from women, at least in Asia where I live, but from my online friends in the West, I’ve found that it isn’t discussed very openly there either.

          Anyway, it was the picture that found me the story, the bear in it. And for that, I’m thankful.

  • Wow, I was captivated immediately by the first line. Trying to put in to words what it feels like after having a miscarriage it is so difficult and people think you are grieving the loss of a thing not a child. After I miscarried, two days later I went to a theme park and wouldn’t go on anything because I couldn’t face the fact that I could and people found that odd, I was only discussing this with a friend the other day and he actually got it but to see it being described here so poignantly is incredible. It’s the feelings you go through that people don’t discuss like your body getting back to normal. The hint of domestic violence is there so thinly that one might miss it it just states how a person who is living in the situation can convince themselves the abuser and the one they love are two different entities. This will definitely stick with me as I have never read anything that touches so truly on how I felt in the time of my life. Only thing I would change is making it longer as I enjoyed reading it so much. Not too feminine, uncomfortable due to subject matter but something that needs to be talked about more.

    • Damyanti says:

      Firstly, I’m so, so sorry for your loss. I’ve held the hands of friends and family who have lost their babies to miscarriages, and complications after birth, and in the story I tried to be as honest as possible to the felt sense of what they described, the state of their bodies and minds.

      The abuse is not meant to be conclusive, because we’re getting the story from the point of view of a woman gone delusional with grief, but all delusions have a trigger and an expression, and I used the bear to do that. Thank you for sharing your story and your vulnerabilities here, I’m humbled you would do that.

      Thank you also for reading and stopping by, I feel privileged that my work touched you. I hope it brought some small measure of comfort.

      You are so right, it needs to be talked about more: a lot of women (and their men) suffer in silence.

  • kim881 says:

    Not at all feminine and I like the bear. The story made me feel sad – I lost two babies but I was lucky that my first pregnancy went to term and my daughter will be 35 in November. The story leaves me feeling raw but not uncomfortable – I can empathise with this character.

    • Damyanti says:

      Thankyou for sharing you story, and I’m relieved that you can empathise with the character through lived experience, because I wrote it entirely from the imagination.

  • It’s uncomfortable because it’s raw, but beautiful for the same reason. I did not find it too feminine.

  • I did read the story. It is not too feminine, just very sad. I had to make a big leap at the end to believe she would be strong enough to do it. She was portrayed as incapable of action and very cowed and I ncapable of the courage it would take to go that far. I would feel a lot more comfortable with the story if she showed signs of strength throughout. It was hard to tell if she was just crazy and delusional or her bear was actually abusive. If I would have read it on a blog I would have certainly hit like.

  • Dan Antion says:

    Not too feminine. More disconcerting than uncomfortable but compelling. I am impressed with the way you deal honestly with the situation. I feel that what you have written represents well how this woman (these women) might feel on a bad day. I am left with a sense of compassion for the woman. Great story D!

    • Damyanti says:

      Thanks, Dan. Having written it completely from heard stories and my imagination, about a common but not commonly-spoken-of event in a woman’s life, I’m relieved that it produces compassion, and not annoyance!

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