I wrote in a recent review about the sense I had that the writer was building tension. Here in Amanda Ellis’ story, Maybe, that feeling is pushed even further – the whole story is tension, building and building, and the absence of release is excruciating.
This is a short, short story. It is less than 800 words. And yet, a universe is opened up. I don’t want to overplay my hand here – or oversell Ellis’ story – but there is a lot contained within. Ellis has created a world that is wholly unfamiliar to me, but which will no doubt be very well known to many of her readers. Specifically, the women readers.
The protagonist is swimming in a lake. It is a lake she remembers from her childhood, where she would spend time with her grandparents far away from civilisation, from others. She is an adult now, and the place is hers. Whether she bought it or inherited it isn’t really our concern, or hers. She is enjoying the afternoon sun and the feeling of the water.
And then a man appears.
She wasn’t surprised to see someone standing there—oftentimes locals would come to have a dip in the lake, especially on a beautiful day like this. What surprised her was what the man was wearing. He certainly didn’t come here for a swim.
Perhaps he is there for some benign reason. Perhaps not. She doesn’t know, but this evaluation is a necessary part of her assessment of the situation. And immediately I am forced to reflect on this. I am male, and I would not care if a man appeared by the lake I was swimming in. He would do his thing, I would do mine. The thought of his intentions, the possibility of some kind of unpleasant eruption, would not enter my mind.
The story continues. The woman’s feelings of relaxation and peace have gone. She has to weigh the situation. Does she go? Does she stay? To go would mean exiting the water, being vulnerable, collecting her things, submitting to his gaze. To stay would mean to acknowledge her vulnerability, to be put on the defence, to lose some portion of autonomy.
The sun starts to sink. The afternoon light begins to dim. The man is still there. It’s probably nothing to worry about, but what if it is?
Ellis highlights the uncomfortable feeling of this situation well. There is an undercurrent of danger, an acceptance that this could all turn very bad very quickly. The woman analyses her environment – can she run? How far away is her home by foot? Can she get in if she needs to leave her belongings by the banks of the lake?
The story ends without an answer, but what we’ve been provided with is sustenance enough. Again, this is not a situation with which I am familiar, so reading it like this – which is to say, economically, stripped down, raw – is enlightening because it is so unknown. A normal task such as swimming does not create within me a feeling of vulnerability, but this story shows me how it might for other people.
Even though it is less than 800 words, there is a bit too much to the story, I think. Clauses could have been shaved near the beginning, as the colour they add to the piece isn’t needed. This is a focused story, and is at its best in the latter half when all else is boiled away and the apprehension of the woman becomes the primary force of the piece. But this is a minor problem, really. What works here works very well, and helped to open my eyes further to a world about which I know very little. And I’m sorry that this world exists.
Maybe by Amanda Ellis is a short story published by Gravel Magazine. You can read the story online here – http://gravelmagazine.wixsite.com/gravel/amanda-ellis.