“In a Chamber of My Heart” by Sandra Gail Lambert from Saints and Sinners 2013: New Fiction from the Festival (Bold Strokes Books). Contest winner.
Full disclosure: I have a story in this anthology.
I told myself that this time I wasn’t going to cry at the end of this story. I thought about the fact that the main character has lived a very long life. I kept in mind that she has been blessed with true love. And yet, I cried at the end.
This is the amazing story of an old woman, dying of cancer, who tells the key points of her life to another woman there as part of a project to chronicle just such experiences. For posterity. And out of a sense of Christian duty. Except the main character isn’t someone whose life story the religious woman wants to hear, and the main character is aware of her shifting and squirming, searching for a face-saving escape. It’s absolutely heartbreaking. I’m reminded of the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind”, which contains the lyric:
How many times can a man turn his head
And pretend he just doesn’t see?
The old woman isn’t a murderess, a thief, someone who left ruined lives in her wake. She fell in love with another woman, longed to be happy, experienced loss, found love again, and honored that love for decades. Dying, she still wants what should be the simplest of things, for a stranger to acknowledge that there is nothing monstrous about her.
It’s moving, often funny (she has, literally, nothing left to lose, so she can be feisty and forthright), and it has great, descriptive passages. It’s no wonder it was the contest winner. No wonder at all.