The Outlaw Life

running, reading, blogging, loving

[21] “Saving Face”

on February 20, 2013


There were no promises, no obligations between living things, she thought. Not even humans. Just raw need hidden by a game of make-believe.

This story is loaded with the kind of questions to which there are no answers and which, if allowed, will drive you mad – what if our narrator, Lila, had waited? Hadn’t been alone that night? Had given the wolf more anesthetic before beginning a small operation? Maybe she wouldn’t have been attacked, her beauty and top lip forever gone in a few short seconds.

Don’t worry, that’s no spoiler. It’s talked about early in the story. Another from Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Birds of a Lesser Paradise, the animal at hand this time is, primarily, the wolf who attacked Lila one night when he awoke from the local anesthetic Lila used before attempting to pull the quills from his muzzle. It’s this wolf who takes away Lila’s sense of beauty, a sense she’s had her entire life, a sense that, now gone, forces her to realize just how easy being pretty made life. She also begins to question the lines between love and pity after a tragedy, and, in a way, whether we need the love of strangers more than we need the love of those closest to us.

However, there is another animal involved, and I think that this second animal is perhaps the even more important one in the story. Part of Lila’s job is traveling to a local prison that is also a self-sustaining farm. The state, facing budget cuts, wants to close the farm and calls Lila in to assess how much they could get for the livestock on the property. While there, a prisoner named Romulus brings to Lila’s attention a sick calf who, basically, won’t survive if Lila doesn’t take her off the property. It’s this sick calf that forces Lila to confront her thoughts about compassion, about the idea of ‘doing what’s best’ for an animal which, in Lila’s mind, means no longer forcing those around her to pretend to love her. I also think it’s awesome that a character named Romulus quasi-attacks her to get her in to the barn in order to see this calf, thus dealing with her feelings: Megan is able to echo the same kind of feelings that Lila’s first wolf attack brought to the surface. It’s a subtle repetition that lends a really sad poeticism to the story as a whole.

While I didn’t like it quite as much as I liked “The Cow that Milked Herself”, I thought that the main reason for this is that I found myself sympathizing with the other narrator much more than Lila. While I thought Megan did an amazing job outlining the thought process that brought Lila to where she is at the end of the story, I just don’t know if I agree with the path the character chose to take. It’s definitely worth a read, even so, even if just for the discussion on the important of physical beauty!

Rating: Hell Yeah!


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