Hallo, Aro is a series of flash fiction stories about allosexual aromantic characters navigating friendship, sexual attraction, aromanticism and the weight of amatonormative expectation.
Contains: A allo-aro woman who doesn’t choose marriage and children … and a society that expects she use her time in service to those who did.
When fog creeps and moon fades, the desperate seek out gods few dare name.
Length: 1, 320 words / 5 PDF pages.
Content advisory: This story focuses on the intersection between capitalism, misogyny, amatonormativity, classism and singleism in terms of how they impact non-partnering and non-parenting working-class adults (especially women and people forcibly categorised as “woman” by Western society) under capitalism. Please expect depictions of and/or references to these as well as general aro erasure, aro antagonism, heteronormativity and cisnormativity.
Animal bones, medical tools and cemeteries are casually mentioned in the setting.
Note the first: Aros like me–who don’t wish to become partners or parents–are particularly vulnerable to the amatonormative expectation that we put our “spare” hours to “use” via our employers, caring duties for extended family members or volunteer work. Too often, if we are not labouring longer so that our colleagues can undertake family duties (a workplace culture that gained me only injury and disability), we are expected to help our family and friends with their caring duties. In ways big and small, many of us decide against partnering and parenting only to wind up supporting or even enabling those family structures we forewent.
(What non-partnering aro hasn’t faced the amatonormative belief that we possess free time in glorious, unused abundance solely because we aren’t partnered, married or dating?)
That said, I want to be clear that the complaint at the heart of this story isn’t levelled against working-class partnered and/or parental folks who need support and flexibility (as badly as working-class non-partnered and/or non-parental folks need affordable housing). No, I take sight at the beast that harms us both: capitalism.
The woman lingers at the alley entrance, peering left and right and left again, before pulling at her cloak’s cowl. Only then does she make the turn, her steps swift and furtive. Most gods’ altars line crossways, thoroughfares and squares, their divinity owed public homage; some, lost amidst the city’s sprawl, lurk behind privies and warehouses. Such sacred spaces never moulder unvisited, but their worshippers seldom attend beneath the sun’s revealing light.
When fog creeps and moon fades, the desperate seek out gods few dare name.
She hurries, her full skirts swishing, around a pile of crates. Behind lies an alcove, mossy and damp, set into the wall dividing alley from boneyard. Ivy smothers both ancient stonework and looming sepulchre, veiling the god’s image such that one sees little more than outstretched wings. Only yellowed papers and fallen leaves cushion the ground before the granite altar, but a soft glow illuminates worshippers’ offerings and the god’s business: rusting hand bells, wire-bound bird bones, curved needles, empty glass phials.
A crow-black feather, carefully stitched onto a red ribbon, emerges from her pocket. She kneels and sets it by the smallest bell. “Please, I beg you listen…”
She scowls, shaking her head. A brown braid escapes her hood.
“No, I’m no priest! I’m Quick. I reckon the name suits. My cousin … none of you gods was listening when my aunt named her. Or you all split your sides laughing! Anyway, I’m a seamstress. The kind doing piece work in a tailor’s workhouse. The kind sewing seams so folk sing the tailor for his cuts and finishings.”
Quick hesitates, crooking her head. Nothing disturbs the alleyway behind her: only a tabby cat sits atop the crates, his yellow eyes examining the wall opposite.
“It’s tiring work, but I’ve guild-set hours, fifth days and holidays. And sewing suits me.” With gloved hands, she raises an unwieldy vine from the altar. Her breath mists the night air. “I mind the tailor and how he manages the other women. They’re married. Mothers with toddling babes, mostly. Their mothers, sisters, or partners tend their children while they work. This must be hard for them, but…”
She bends the vine back upon itself, weaving it into the mess of leaves shrouding the alcove’s left wall.
“When we’ve trousers to remake or shirts still to baste for the morrow’s fitting … they plead their babies and their partners. The tailor says he’s a proud family man, so he won’t hold family against his workers. Meaning when the eve-bell rings and work wants continuing, he begs me to stay. ‘Cause I’ve no partner or children, aren’t I best to?”
A withered twig cracks as Quick breaks it clean from the vine, stowing it inside her cloak’s pocket.
“The tailor pays no guild’s cut on after-bell hours. So he won’t hire more seamstresses, the others go home, and I stay late. Again. He suggests he can’t keep me elsewise, which makes mockery of his singing about my good work.” Her voice roughens. “Mama … Mama chides my minding so much I daren’t speak of it, ‘cause she says I’m helping the tailor and the other women both. Aren’t I better to be kind and turn extra coin for the family, than sit idle at home?”
Her lips trembling, she turns to the altar. Never does she permit her fingers to touch older offerings, irrespective of rust and tarnish; instead, uncaring of her skirts and cloak, she brushes leaves, twigs, bird droppings and dirt from the granite slab.
“But I don’t! I scarce bang my boots before a sister hands off her latest babe or begs me feed her boys. I haven’t been home in weeks while the oldest nurses—and when the youngest sister takes ill and her children also need tending, there I go.” Quick utters a low laugh, shaking her head. “Until bed, I’m changing napkins or saving the cat from being poked. Sometimes just so they can be alone with their husbands! My sisters say a village should raise a child, and since Mama helps my brother’s wife when not doing for Papa, and my sisters’ husbands earn their rent, there’s me. I’m to be kind to them, too–to be the village.”
“But I mind it. I mind.”
She bows her head, resting fisted hands in her lap.
“I want no husband. I want no children. I want … a house with a big bed for me and a lover—but they never pass the whole night in it. More like a regular guest than a partner, and I know how that’s awful!” Quick inhales, her cheeks flushed and eyes glistening. “I want time for reading, stitching, tatting, drawing—and coin enough for a score of lamps! Space to guest in a friend’s bed, some evenings, and have them guest in mine. No wifehood, no motherhood. They’d strangle me!”
She sits in wordlessness, breathing heavily.
The cat leaps from the topmost crate, lands and pads down the alleyway.
“I know that for truth, ‘cause I’m strangled now. I work late ‘cause the tailor chooses wives and mothers’ leaving over me.” Quick shudders, her hands tightening. “I tend my sisters’ children ‘cause I’m no wife or mother, so I own nothing more important. I won’t be a partner or parent, so those who are expect I use my hours to help. And to escape their expecting? Marry and bear my own children! Only then are my refusals accepted!”
Her harsh, raucous cackle sends a startled cat skittering into the street.
“I’m why the tailor won’t hire another seamstress but sing himself for being a family man. I’m why my sisters have all their sons. I’m the pillar holding them up—making doable their homes, marriage, children, pride. I’m obliged to bear their weight … and why shouldn’t I, after refusing what we’re supposed to have? What good am I to anyone, elsewise? How am I naught but selfish, denying Papa the chance of granddaughters?”
A tear—hot, salty and grief-leaden—patters the alcove’s pitted stone.
“I want to live for me, but not by leaving my family. I still want my sisters, Mama–just less of them! But even had I wage enough to leave, what next? Won’t another employer think the same? Won’t I be holding the neighbour’s crying babe? When nobody can live the way they’re obliged to want without spinster aunts shoring them up, where can I be?”
Quick sucks in another gulping breath, her voice wavering.
“If you’re a good and just god, even you won’t change this. Nothing right lies in making everyone be and think different for my wants, even if you could. Nothing right lies in upending everything, and that’s the worst thing, the very worst thing … that there’s no escape. None. Just a horrid knot binding us all, a knot in a world with no scissors. One I best ought to learn to not mind.”
Her shoulders slumping, she sags in upon herself. The fog thickens, gifting the statuette a halo of blue light, but Quick sits as if too worn and grief-struck to move. Only when her shivers threaten convulsions does she catch herself, blinking.
“Least you listen without chiding,” she murmurs, and you never demanded a girl marry for your favour or called her selfish for choosing her own way. Other … other gods aren’t so kind. Even if they’re reckoned good.” She grimaces, shaking her head. “Thank you. It’s easier to forget how I mind if I talk, sometimes. Least for a while.”
She stands, bows, tugs her hood as far over her cheeks as the fabric will allow, and retreats down the alleyway.
In the shadows of a corner unseen by mortal eyes, a weeping god cups his face in taloned hands.
For how long can he pay witness to the harms wrought upon his own before inaction may no longer be deemed “just”?
K. A. Cook is an abrosexual, aromantic, agender autistic who experiences chronic pain and mental illness. Ze writes creative non-fiction, personal essays and fiction about the above on the philosophy that if the universe is going to make life interesting, ze may as well make interesting art. You can find hir blogging at Aro Worlds and running the Tumblr accounts @aroworlds and @alloaroworlds.