Prairie Fires: Chapter 8

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapter 8

(Tweet Link: Part 3) Rose is touring Europe in the wake of a world war and briefly toys with the idea of adopting a "war orphan" but she gets and discards another boyfriend instead.

Laura is classist again, fretting that the recent women's right to vote will only be utilized by "rougher classes" of women while "home-loving home-keeping" women stay home from the polls.

Caroline dies and it is sad. I hated her in the books, but here she benefits next to everyone else being way worse. Rest in peace, Caroline.

Btw, if you're liking this live read, you've got to check out the Prairie Fires book because there's a lot of wild stuff I just don't know how to summarize. Like Rose Wilder's angsty Twilightesque self-insert sexual escapade fanfic.

Good morning, everyone. Laura resigned her column after her mother's death, writing one last paean to Caroline and another to Almanzo and that time he took her home for Christmas.

Rose ping-pongs about Europe, fetishizes Albania and Albanian men, considers adopting a 15 guide (she's...40?), and claims an Albanian bey (leader) proposes to her mid-gun battle. She becomes so absolutely annoying about her fetishization of Albania that her best friend's husband writes an Annoying White Lady caricature of her in his books and I'm here for it.

She gets... wow. Really awful.

[TW] Rose is proud of the fact that Americans killed the indigenous people over land, rather than religion, and scorns the Europeans for not having the same "clean" reasons for killing. She approves of killing! Just not the reasons.

In a deep depression, Rose goes back to Rocky Ridge and Laura. Laura is 57 years old and struggling to keep doing all the farm chores she'd done all her life; she's described as old and unwell. Rose moves into her old bedroom and turns her old Jack London stuff into a "novel" about him (instead of a biography) and fuck you, Rose, fuck you forever.

Rose hates farm life and manual labor of any kind, which tells us volumes about what kind of traveling companion she was in the Albanian mountains, I feel.

Rose refuses to save money and grows more disconnected from financial reality. "With fantastic optimism, she estimated that she could sell a hundred stories over the next five years at five hundred dollars each, an output scarcely suited to a temperamental writer." 100 stories in 5 years, at $500 each! For what would be thousands of dollars in today's money! Writers, here is the part where we throw back our heads and laugh.

Rose is outraged when Laura points out that a story might not sell, or Rose might become too sick to write or suffer an accident, etc. SPOILER: THIS WILL DEFINITELY HAPPEN?

Man, I have every mixed feeling about their relationship because Rose is basically Ayn Rand but worst, but I too would not like living with Laura? Like, I am wincingly sympathetic to the whole "MOM, I am a cosmopolitan WRITER and you married at NINETEEN and chair a bingo parlor slash masonic lodge."

I don't honestly think Rose understands her own impulses. "[Rose] was publishing a rhapsodic tribute to rural farm life in Country Gentleman, while declaring privately that her parents should sell the farm and move to England. Supremely confident in this decision, she nonetheless expressed bafflement how they could find income there." Like. 'Mom, you should sell your home and source of income (eggs, butter, etc) and move to England where you will have no income whatsoever.'

Laura runs for office and fails, so turns to writing; she asks her aunt to write down everything she can remember from childhood and send the stories back to Laura for her to use as raw material.

Rose buys her parents a Buick; Almanzo crashes it and sends Rose flying through the windshield. "Accustomed to driving a team of horses, he had braced his foot on the gas pedal while pulling back on the steering wheel, saying “Whoa!” Lane went through the windshield, leaving her with glass in her face, a crushed nose, and two black eyes." Ouch.

"In her enthusiasm, [Rose] pulled her parents into the [stock] market along with her. “Stocks are leaping around like corn in a popper,” Rose wrote to them. “Fortunately, we can’t lose.""


Rose cannot keep a dollar without spending it, but is commissioning plans for a palace and servants. "Lane paid their Russian tutor, a former architect, to design a new home on the Adriatic, in the “pure Arab style.” The sketch showed a lavish colonnaded affair with a walled garden, swimming pool, terraces, defensive gun emplacements, open courtyards, and a servants’ court."


I... I don't know how to deal with this, I am losing my shit. How do you pay your Russian tutor to design a feudal palace for you? She has no money, I have to add. She can't keep herself from spending all of it instantly.

Prairie Fires: Chapters 6-7

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapters 6-7

(Tweet Link: Part 2) Okay, when we left the last thread: Laura had grown up and gotten married and had Rose before her husband got very sick and had a stroke that left him disabled. They are now replicating the bad decisions of her childhood: Hole up with a financially stable family, gain a few belongings and a foothold, sell everything, move to the latest land-grab in an attempt to strike it self-sufficiently rich, fail.

There are a few genuinely sad things here. One, Laura's white family is a cloud of locusts driving indigenous people from their homes and destroying the land. Two, the lack of real safety nets for disabled and impoverished people is the gale wind behind the white locusts. The people getting rich off the land-grabs are (a) the government and (b) the railroads and (c) the people selling farm equipment. That's pretty much it. Everyone else loses.

Prairie Fires: Chapters 1-5

[Prairie Fires Content Note: Racism, Settler Violence, Nazis, Child Abuse]

Prairie Fires: I started and stopped a Little House deconstruction awhile back, but the subject matter stayed with me. This book--a new and informative expose on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose Wilder Lane--was recommended to me so I picked it up on a lark. I was not prepared. This is a record of my live-read on Twitter.

Prairie Fires, Chapters 1-5

(Tweet Link: Part 1) Wow, I'm really liking Prairie Fires so far. (New... expose? biography? of Laura Ingalls Wilder.) "Showing American children how to be poor without shame, she herself grew rich." I wish the author had specified white American children. I hope race is explored more, because it's inextricable to the Wilder legend. Her mythic story is a white story.

Chapter 1 is about how the Wisconsin "Big Woods" farm, land, and maple sugar trees featured in the first book were freshly stolen from indigenous people. Like, extremely freshly. I knew that the other books (Silver Lake, Prairie, etc) were about LIW's white family stealing indigenous land, but I hadn't realized Big Woods was part of that pattern as well.

I'm not sure yet when Pa's family shows up, but noting that he was born in 1836, the 1855 German and Bohemian settlers migrated into the Big Woods by moving into indigenous homes while the owners were our hunting, then refusing to leave when the owners came home.

Open Thread: Bookstore Pillow

After bringing primary computer in to be fixed (in theory) I stopped by a bookstore before heading home.  This bookstore sold pillows.  This is the pillow that caught my eye.  Lacking money with which to buy such a thing, I snapped a photo.


Friday Saturday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Author Interview: Reverse-Engineering Eternity, The Puzzle of the Snow Queen

[Ana: Today we have a guest post from Benjanun Sriduangkaew about her upcoming book, Winterglass. For those who haven't read Andersen's The Snow Queen, a Project Gutenberg link is here.] 

Reverse-Engineering Eternity: The Puzzle of the Snow Queen

Content warning for discussion of misogynistic abuse, sexist false dichotomies.

Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen has the distinction of being the one western fairytale that's ever had lasting effect on me — I never did warm to Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, or even the rest of Andersen. Mostly Disney's fault.

There's the exotic world which The Snow Queen presents, the frozen Lappland, the forever winter, the peculiar imagery of the snow bees, that compelled me more than the generic dark forests of Sleeping Beauty or Beauty and the Beast. And part of it was, inevitably, the Snow Queen figure — immaculate, beautiful, limitless. Long before I came to frame all my writing (and I do mean all) through queer lens, she was compelling and magnetic. While a lot of us gravitate to the malicious stepmothers and the evil witch-queens, creating for them a sympathetic perspective or origin story, the Snow Queen has always been ambivalent. Unlike the wicked stepmothers and the witch queens, she's never shown in defeat. Her hold on the boy Kay is a spell done in absentia, an offering of a beautiful puzzle—we never hear from her again past a certain point in the story. In absentia, eternally unattainable, impossible to defeat even by the most pious of Christian girls.

Piecing the Mirror Together

When you rework a western fairytale, you run into the risk of retreading old ground: most have been retold to death or have received the unfortunate Disney treatment or both. The Snow Queen has eluded Disney, but she's been places (and how odd, how interesting, that it is the queen who's usually central rather than Gerda or Kay). Lumi of the Fables comics, Arianrhod of Joan D. Vinge's Snow Queen Cycle, Princess Kaguya of Sailor Moon: Kaguya-hime no Koibito, the White Witch Jadis of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Freya from The Huntsman: Winter War (2016). But the source material is still interesting to me, and I wanted to give it a try.

Winterglass isn't an exact retelling. Most keep the core concepts: a boy is corrupted into the worst version of himself, is seduced and taken away by the wintry sorceress-queen, an innocent girl — usually his childhood sweetheart—sets out on an adventure to rescue him and free him from the queen's grasp. That I had to jettison immediately, as I don't find much of interest in a heterosexual love story. The aspect of this story that often plays out as Gerda and the queen vying for control and (sometimes romantic) attention of Kay doesn't interest me either.

Gerda's defining trait, the one that lets her free Kay, is her purity of heart, her innocence, in so many words.

“But can you not give little Gerda something to help her to conquer this power?”

“I can give her no greater power than she has already,” said the woman; “don't you see how strong that is? How men and animals are obliged to serve her, and how well she has got through the world, barefooted as she is. She cannot receive any power from me greater than she now has, which consists in her own purity and innocence of heart. If she cannot herself obtain access to the Snow Queen, and remove the glass fragments from little Kay, we can do nothing to help her. Two miles from here the Snow Queen's garden begins; you can carry the little girl so far, and set her down by the large bush which stands in the snow, covered with red berries. Do not stay gossiping, but come back here as quickly as you can.” Then the Finland woman lifted little Gerda upon the reindeer, and he ran away with her as quickly as he could.

It's a very Christian story (Gerda literally dispels the Snow Queen's enchantments with Christian prayers). The Finnish woman doesn't remark on her endurance or strength: it is Gerda's purity alone that she praises, and Gerda's purity alone that — she asserts—compels and charms all into serving Gerda. Vinge has an interesting take on this, where her Gerda figure Moon Dawntreader does win through kindness and empathy rather than purity, and there's mileage to be had from stories where kindness and empathy are the guiding principles (Steven Universe, Puella Magi Madoka Magica). But so often what happens is that writers position Gerda as the virgin, the queen as the whore, the way it happens in any story where a powerful woman is pitted against a younger, naiver one: just look at Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Disney's own take on Snow White (1937) or Sleeping Beauty (1950) or The Little Mermaid (1989). Even Vinge's rendition falls into this trap: Arienrhod is defined by her ambition and sexual appetites while her clone Moon is younger, sweeter, kinder and most importantly more innocent (she has sex with one man at a time and only with a deep emotional connection while Snow Queen Arienrhod throws orgies: how scandalous). Sailor Moon plays it straight: an astronomer boy is seduced by the icily beautiful, cruel Kaguya-hime. She is defeated by the titular Sailor Moon, a young woman empowered by her innocence and purity.

So many reinterpretations of the Snow Queen fixate on her having been abused by men into bitterness, even though Andersen's never was— his Snow Queen is a figure of elemental force and alien motivation, untouched by men and untouchable. Freya in The Huntsman: Winter War, Lumi in Fables, one way or another all have been shaped by patriarchal malignancy, by male entitlement. Elsa of Frozen's catalyst is the threat of power-hungry, treacherous men seeking to exploit or remove her. Vinge's Arienrhod is spited one last time by a man— her discarded former lover—as she is thrown into the sea to drown alive. Men, it seems, are inescapable.

This inescapability has something to do, possibly, with the idea that the appeal of The Snow Queen lies in being a story where the girl rescues the boy. While Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty are passive, Gerda adventures. She strives, she endures, and she overcomes. There's certainly something to be said for that, but it's still a girl and a boy. It still confines and, fundamentally, it places supreme importance on the boy as a person so worthy and precious that a flawless, morally impregnable girl beloved by all she comes into contact with will go through hell to regain him. To me this wasn't a fantasy of female empowerment: it is a fantasy of male all-importance.

When I started writing Winterglass with the intent of basing a story on the Andersen, I was faced with a few options.

  1. Gerda and Kay are both girls, they are lesbians. The Snow Queen is also a woman, older and sexually voracious in contrast to Gerda's and Kay's inexperience.
  2. Gerda and Kay are both girls, they are lesbians. The Snow Queen is a man, he is a sexual and sexist threat, an embodiment of patriarchal power that suppresses queer women and threatens them with corrective rape.
  3. Gerda is a boy and Kay is a girl.

And so on, and so on. (Putting them in an American high school or college is, naturally, right out.) Number two goes out the window fast: Andersen's story doesn't have a sexual assault component to it the way Grimm's tend to, and I'm not desperate to introduce any. Making the Snow Queen male would also center a man, and I just don't find that — even when the man is an oppressor — all that interesting; 'darker, more adult' fairytale retellings which play up sexual assault are a well-trodden territory, sometimes to ridiculous excess (take Anne Rice's regrettable The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty).

Another factor is the characters' ages, which is more crucial than you would expect: in the original they start the story as children, and in most retellings they begin their journey as teenagers. I didn't care to write an ingenue who is led by her naivety and who triumphs because of it, or an innocent who falls afoul of icy seduction. I very specifically made Nuawa and Lussadh experienced (in all ways) and accustomed to violence, with Nuawa in her thirties and Lussadh in her forties. Setting next — fairytale retellings are often quite white, with Vinge's The Snow Queen set on a sea planet populated entirely (and improbably) by white Celts. I could set Winterglass in a similar analogue, or a secondary-world mishmash of medieval Europe and Britain, but the Winter Queen's threat seems much more interesting and terrifying as a literalization of colonialism. Sirapirat is not a direct analogue of any one city, but the shape and origins of its culture should be obvious, and I want Nuawa's relationship with her city to be unambiguous: her opinion of Sirapirat would have been very different had she been a person of color born and living in a white-majority country.

I am not actually that enamored of the Andersen story.

It made an impression on me; I felt the images in it were beautiful, more distinct and concrete than anything in Grimm's, more particular. But if pressed I wouldn't, now, name it as something I necessarily love. Andersen provides me with a structure, a few images I like, but I don't owe him or his story any debt. I'm sure I loved it when I was much younger—I looked up every retelling I could find, and was incredibly into Vinge's version—but it's not just that Andersen's story is deeply white, I also don't believe in what it believes: that resistance through innocence suffices or even works. The Gerdas of the world, in their white purity, may be able to get what they want through demonstrating that they have beautiful hearts and sterling character. But for people like Nuawa, women of color subjugated by imperialism, that will not get us very far at all. We know that we're born screaming, and to our graves we'll be screaming still, fighting to breathe and to die with dignity. Prayer is for white girls whose innocence will be believed, whose goodness is assumed and whose socialized position is ever on pedestals.

Vinge's Moon Dawntreader is chosen by the closest thing to a god and taught from childhood to be kind and loving, because in both her world and ours, the compassionate heart of a white girl is an assumption supported by universal consensus. Andersen's Gerda dispels the Snow Queen by Christian prayer; animals love her, people cannot resist helping her, and to the end she and Kay remain 'children at heart', pure and therefore fit for God's light. Nuawa survives to adulthood on a terrible sacrifice, raised and forged to be a weapon who will burn her heart out if it means overthrowing a tyrant.

And this, to me, is what it means to reconfigure a fairytale through post-colonialist lens: not just by making the characters of color rather than white, but by upsetting completely the worldview and assumptions of the white original. It is to relocate everything from the pale, frozen lands of Europe to a country all your own, and it is about — most of all — fighting with everything you have, even if it becomes your undoing, because you know no alternative exists and no gentler options will be offered.

Winterglass is a lesbian epic fantasy based on 'The Snow Queen', set in secondary-world Southeast Asia, out December 2017, and available now for pre-order.

Narnia: Doggy Hands and Cut Throats

[Narnia Content Note: Racism]

Narnia Recap: Shasta has reunited with Aravis, Bree, and Hwin and now they are returning to King Lune and Narnia. Obligatory note about racism, intent, and Lewis is here.

The Horse and His Boy, Chapter 15: Rabadash the Ridiculous

There is one chapter left in this book and it is difficult to analyze for reasons which I think will become apparent as we did in. I am going to try my best to wade through here, but appreciate your patience as we go along.

[Confession: I think, too, as this deconstruction has gone on that I've come to put pressure on myself more with each post. What was a few years back a project of "read a chapter, have reactions on the internet" has now been built up in my mind as "no, I must post a perfect post that captures every nuance of the chapter and if I can't do that then I might as well not even try". I'm going to try to get out of that mental rut because it's not helpful for me, but we'll see how that goes.

So here is a short post and I'm not going to apologize because there is nothing wrong with a short post. Right?]

Open Thread: Blue Car on the Orange Line

Some think that the key to getting people to use their product is immersing said-people in ads to the point that the ads are completely unmissable to the majority of the population.

I have no idea if it actually works, but it is kind of hard to miss that almost everything in this particular T/train/subway car was blue when it is usually the case that none of it is.

Picture taken at Oak Grove, but I rode the exceptionally blue car to Downtown Crossing.


Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Open Thread: Bird on a Whatchamacallit

I . . . have no idea what the thing the bird is on is called.  None.  I can describe it, I understand the principles behind it, I've seen it and its ilk all the time, I don't know what it's called.

That, however, is not the point.  This is: bird!

Also, I kind of forgot that it was Friday.  I was doing a lot of stuff that I more associate with Thursdays (and, less often, Wednesday.)


Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Open Thread: Disordered Sidewalk

A sidewalk in Portland, Maine.  On the street that leads to the red bridge to South Portland.

Apparently it's actually sidewalk construction season because, up the hill and down the road from where this picture was taken, a massive section of sidewalk is being rebricked.  Not the first such project I've seen of late.  I very much doubt that this particular sidewalk will be rebricked any time soon, though.  It's doing fine and the street isn't heavily walked anyway.

Also: Friday open thread on an actual Friday.  Woo!


Friday Recommendations!  What have you been reading/writing/listening to/playing/watching lately?  Shamelessly self-promote or boost the signal on something you think we should know about - the weekend’s ahead of us, so give us something new to explore!

And, like on all threads: please remember to use the "post new comment" feature rather than the "reply" feature, even when directly replying to someone else!

Writings: Escaping Margaritaville

[CN: Spoilers for the Dream Daddy dating simulation game.]

I spent the last week of July briefly obsessed with a visual novel dating simulator called "Dream Daddy" in which you are a single-parent who, yes, dates dreamy daddies. It's sweet and good and wholesome and funny and fat-friendly and trans-friendly and I have all the feels about it. I recommend the game very highly. Here is a twitter thread in which I gush even more. I also made my best friend Kristy write a post for kir patreon here, and there will be another one going up on kir patreon which is a follow-up to this post. DUAL PATREON POSTS.

If there is one thing I do not like about the game, it's that I think they dropped the ball with the character Joseph. There's a looooong backstory to the creation of this character, which I will not get into here, but the short version is that the character started out as a villain before the creative vision for the project shifted and the character was re-purposed into a sympathetic character. This isn't a bad thing--we got the movie FROZEN out of such creative vision shifts--but I think the developers didn't quite go far enough with their revision of Joseph.

Joseph is a youth pastor in the game, and heavily involved in the local church. He's the only dad who is still married when you meet him, and he and his wife Mary are trapped in a loveless marriage. He is heavily implied to be a closeted gay man who has 'strayed' with men before in the past, and Mary is managing her understandable anger at the situation with alcohol and barbed insulting witticisms at every turn. I love them both and they are both hurting so much and I want them to stop hurting each other and themselves and get a healthy divorce.

Instead, what happens in the game is you go to bed with Joseph on his yacht, losing yourselves to happiness in the "Margaritaville" he's constructed for himself as a retreat away from his wife and church. Then he panics and dumps you, returning to his wife and trying (again) to make their broken marriage work. All the other daddy routes in the game end with you happily coupled with your daddy of choice, so Joseph's breakup ending is a painful slap in the face and shows the stitches of the developers changing his ending hastily from the "villain" ending they'd originally planned for him to a more sympathetic ending in which he dumps the player instead.

As a trans and queer person raised in an oppressive church community, I had a lot of feels about playing a trans man dating Joseph. This scene is set on the yacht just after the player character and Joseph go to bed for the first time. Kristy's scene--which I highly recommend--is set in the end-game party, and involves a much-needed conversation with Mary.

Escaping Margaritaville

Sunset glitters on the ocean and we drift in a sea of liquid gold, yellow and warm as Joseph's hair. My fingers brush over his skin, savoring the glow where he's bathed in the light from the yacht window. He catches my hand and kisses my fingers, but gently this time; we've worn each other out. I've been this happy before plenty of times but it never stops being special, this feeling of being with someone you love and knowing they love you back. I could get used to this, with him.

Joseph's eyes are as blue as his favorite sweater. He squints against the dying light, sensitive to the sun, but the age-lines in his face only make him more beautiful. I know he's been miserable for so long, living a life that was true for him once but soured into a lie, and I don't blame him for any of this. We should have handled it better, maybe, and there'll be awkward conversations when we leave the sea and go back to shore, but pain is necessary. You can't set a broken leg to heal without hurting the patient.

"I love you." His voice is gentle, but with a wistfulness that brings me up from the endorphins I've been riding. He sounds like he's saying goodbye, memorizing a moment he'll never have again. He sounds like sorrow.

I know that voice: it was mine once. He thinks I don't understand because I'm not Christian like him, that the guilt he wears wrapped around his shoulders at all times isn't familiar to me. I haven't told him I once was a Christian. I didn't want to get into an argument with my new neighbor and then, later, I didn't want to pressure him to make the same choices I'd made. But I know that voice like I know my own, the lament of a sinner memorizing his best and sweetest sin before he vows to give it up forever. He's trying to save his soul.

If he were anyone else, I would be angry. I would feel used. He got his urge for sin out of his system, scratched the itch, and now he sets me free with a fond farewell I'm not supposed to resent. But I'm not angry. I know him too well and I see the misery behind his eyes. He isn't afraid of losing Mary and his kids and the church; his greatest fear is losing me and this, the freedom he's craved for years. What we did together didn't scratch an itch--we put a band-aid on a broken leg and now he's trying to walk out of the hospital as though he were healed and that was all he needed to be well again.

"I love you, too." None of his wistfulness in my voice; I won't play this game for him. I love him too much to coddle him while he ruins his life and I take collateral damage. "What aren't you saying to me, Joseph?"

He's startled, eyes widening. I've shocked him by being too direct. Does he ever speak honestly with anyone? His ministry involves a constant verbal two-step: speaking what he ought, but hiding his own hypocrisy and treading around those committed by his audience. Mary is more abrupt in her speech, but still not direct; her words hold layers of painful meaning, cutting him with veiled references to their problems. I can pity them both while wishing they would call a halt to their intricate verbal dance and just talk to each other.

The lie coalesces behind his eyes, spinning soft truths as webs to let me down 'gently'. "I'll just miss... all this. Margaritaville." I'm supposed to pretend he's talking about tomorrow rather than forever.

"Joseph." I prop myself up with my elbow, and brush fingers over his perfect chin. "I like Jimmy Buffett as much as the next red-blooded American dad. But have you actually listened to Margaritaville?" My eyes soften at him. "It's not a happy song, baby. It's a sad, guilty, trapped song. Jimmy's singing about living in a dream vacation spot and drowning in regrets even as visitors to paradise envy him for living the good life."

He opens his mouth to object, but I stop him. "No. Joseph, listen to me. You're living a dream life. Beautiful wife and four lovely children. Your community looks up to you as a religious leader and you throw amazing-yet-wholesome parties for the neighborhood. You have a decked-out grill that could pilot someone to the moon, and you know how to use it." My fingers swipe gently over his lips. "And you look perfect doing it."

A pink blush colors his cheeks, but I've coaxed out a smile. He's beautiful like this, shy and confident all at once, averting his eyes in embarrassment from my praise even as a part of him--the younger rebellious part that raised hell and got tattoos and hoisted a middle finger to the world by bringing me out here on his boat--knows he deserves adoration. He's handsome and strong and charismatic and clever, and his church has made him feel guilty for those talents while profiting off him for years. They took his youth and used him until he's wrung out and miserable, and then told him that misery was his own fault.

"Margaritaville is my escape." His whisper is soft in the gathering darkness as the sun dips below the dancing horizon. "It's where I retreat with you and... and let myself be myself."

I shake my head, wondering if he can see me through the tears pricking his blue eyes. "Baby, Margaritaville is where you're living. You're boiling shrimp to pass the time and watching life move by without you. You're wrestling with whose 'fault' it is that your marriage is broken, going back and forth between shouldering the entire burden yourself and blaming Mary."

He jerks his head up to look at me. "It's not her fault."

The words are automatic, spilling over his lips without pause for breath or thought, and I shake my head again. "What, you know it's 'your own damn fault'? Yes, I do remember the song, Joseph. Hence my point." My teasing echo of the lyrics is cruel under the circumstances--we are talking about his marriage--but he's so mired in his Buffett metaphor as coping mechanism I don't think he'll listen if I don't brutally dismantle it.

"It is, though." Joseph looks away, unable to meet my eyes. "If I'd been a better husband, if I'd been a different kind of man..." His voice trails off in the dark.

"If I'd been what the church wanted, what my father expected." I stroke his hair as I whisper, letting him hear the old pain in my voice. My wounds have healed, but scars linger. "If I just try a little harder not to be queer anymore, if I make the right choices, if I cross my fingers and tap my heels and wish on a shooting star and pray every night as hard as I possibly can..." Leaning forward, I kiss his forehead and let him feel my warm breath. I'm alive and I'm here, and even that much is a miracle. One I made myself, when I gave up on God to hop to it. "It didn't work, Joseph. Not for me. And I... I don't think it's working for you, baby."

His sob almost breaks my own composure, strong arms finding me in the darkness only to cling as he cries. I'm small enough for this man to pick up and carry to bed, but he holds me like a life-raft on the stormy sea. "I want to do the right thing. I promised her forever and I love my children. How can I leave them? I keep telling myself we can stay together, we can be... partners if not lovers. But there's so much old hurt and anger and we both just..."

"I know. Baby, I do know." Gentle pats on his back, letting him cry it all out. "But this thing you're doing together? Joseph, it isn't working. And if you think your kids will grow up not noticing the rift in your house, you've got another thing coming." I kiss his forehead again and wonder if I'm doing the right thing. I don't want to break up his marriage, I don't want to break up anyone's marriage, but their marriage is already broken. Six miserable people in a house together and all of them deserve better.

"Joseph, I can't tell you what to do. But no matter what you've told yourself, you have options. Hugo is divorced and shares custody over his son with his ex-husband. He's happier, healthier, and very much a part of his child's life. You don't have to choose between your children and your happiness." My fingers find his chin and tip his face to me; I can just make out his face in the moonlight. "And you may have promised her forever, but I think you need to sit down with Mary and talk about whether she still wants that with you. It's okay to be friends and partners in raising your children and not be married to each other anymore."

"Do you really think she would let me go?" Hope and need mingle in his voice, sharp enough to stab a heart.

I stroke his hair again, as gently as I would a newborn kitten. I think of Mary, sharp-tongued and miserable. Easy to hate at first glance, until you see how gentle she is with Damien and how fond she feels towards Robert. Even when she has every reason to be angry with me, she's apologetic when hurling her mocking barbs; going through the motions of hating me as a homewrecker even as her empty eyes plead for me to point her towards her own escape. How miserable is she at home, married to a man who dreams of escaping their relationship? Playing the perfect Christian wife at their bake sales, pretending their problems aren't real? In her shoes I would want to end the sham, to make a clean break and find a fresh start. To look for love in the Maple Bay bars, and not the fleeting attention of drunken strangers she doesn't intend to ever touch.

"Joseph, I don't think she's the one who's been keeping you here. When you're finally ready to escape Margaritaville, I think you may find she's on your side and ready to escape with you."