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Author Topic: PC409: The Husband Stitch  (Read 2601 times)
Talia
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« on: March 29, 2016, 01:54:54 PM »

PodCastle 409: The Husband Stitch

by Carmen Maria Machado

read by Gabrielle de Cuir


First appeared in Granta. A Nebula and Shirley Jackson Award nominee. Read it here!

I have always been a teller of stories. When I was a young girl, my mother carried me out of a grocery store as I screamed about toes in the produce aisle. Concerned women turned and watched as I kicked the air and pounded my mother’s slender back.

– Potatoes! she corrected when we got back to the house. Not toes!

She told me to sit in my chair – a child-sized thing, only built for me – until my father returned. But no, I had seen the toes, pale and bloody stumps, mixed in among those russet tubers. One of them, the one that I had poked with the tip of my index finger, was cold as ice, and yielded beneath my touch the way a blister did. When I repeated this detail to my mother, the liquid of her eyes shifted quick as a startled cat.


Rated R.

Carmen Maria Machado’s debut short story collection, Her Body and Other Parties, is forthcoming from Graywolf Press in Fall 2017. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2015, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for the Calvino Prize, and nominated for a Nebula Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop, and lives in Philadelphia with her partner.

Gabrielle de Cuir has narrated over 400 hundred titles specializing in fantasy, humor, and titles requiring extensive foreign language and accent skills.  Her “velvet touch” as an actors’ director has earned her a special place in the audiobook world as the foremost choice for best-selling authors and celebrities. Short list of those directed: Anne Hathaway, Emilio Estevez, Wil Wheaton, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, Elijah Wood, Deepak Chopra, Eric Idle, Nancy Cartwright, Michael York, Ed Herrmann, and Joe Mantegna.  She is the writer and director of the Award winning short film THE DELIVERY, which deals with an Alice-in-Wonderland version of audio books.  She spent her childhood in Rome growing up with her wildly artistic and cinematic father, John de Cuir, four-time Academy Award winning Production Designer, an upbringing that enabled her to be fluent in Romance languages and to have an unusual appetite for visual delights.

Listen to this week’s PodCastle!
« Last Edit: April 20, 2016, 08:09:31 AM by Talia » Logged
Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: March 29, 2016, 04:41:20 PM »

I've been meaning to say something about this for a while, now:

If you're going to have story ratings, I think it's important that they be included at the beginning of the audio. I suspect more people listen to the story before (or even without!) reading the post than otherwise, which makes a print-only rating less useful than it might otherwise be.
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« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2016, 06:06:21 PM »

I've been meaning to say something about this for a while, now:

If you're going to have story ratings, I think it's important that they be included at the beginning of the audio. I suspect more people listen to the story before (or even without!) reading the post than otherwise, which makes a print-only rating less useful than it might otherwise be.

The rating's always included right at the start of the audio, after the episode title and number. Did we miss one somewhere? I just checked this file, and it did include the rating, so I'm not sure I understand the complaint.
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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2016, 06:34:52 PM »

I've been meaning to say something about this for a while, now:

If you're going to have story ratings, I think it's important that they be included at the beginning of the audio. I suspect more people listen to the story before (or even without!) reading the post than otherwise, which makes a print-only rating less useful than it might otherwise be.

The rating's always included right at the start of the audio, after the episode title and number. Did we miss one somewhere? I just checked this file, and it did include the rating, so I'm not sure I understand the complaint.

My mistake. I abjectly apologize. It went right by without me noticing it at all.

I guess I got used to the more specific (and often humorous) ratings that Dave used to do, e.g. "Rated R for violence and strong language" or "Contains violence and an anthropomorphic house" or whatever, because there have been a few episodes recently where I thought (e.g.), Wow, that was unexpectedly extreme.

Once again, my apologies for missing it.  Embarrassed
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« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2016, 08:26:45 PM »

No worries! I'm just glad nothing was missing. Smiley And I'm sorry you got some unexpected surprise from some of the recent stories, and weren't prepared for that. Maybe we'd do better to highlight the rating a bit more, if it's an issue.
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« Reply #5 on: March 31, 2016, 10:23:50 AM »

Very mixed feelings about this story.  The reading was great, very well done.  The story itself was too long for my taste, especially considering you knew the ribbon was coming off at the end.  If it had ended differently or at least been some sort of twist I would have felt better about it.  About half way through I started using the 30 second advance.

Also, please don't sell a story so much!  After the great preview I was expecting a masterpiece, and that probably left me more disappointed.

I understood the story to be about the capacity of women to give of herself, the way society might force her too, and maybe also how we all might have secrets or personal spaces we want for itself.  If that was it, then it has already been done many times before.  Plus the ribbon in the end confused me.  All the woman have ribbons it seems?  But in different parts of their bodies?  Only women then?  Is it so simple as representing the discrimination women suffer and how they cant even hold a little part of themselves away from others?  I don't know if I understood it.

And I did not like to parts in the story.  When she mentions casually that she was "easy".  I hate it when sexually active women are called easy.  I understand that is how society sees it, but I did not like that the protagonist also thought herself as such.

And did not like when she mentions she could have met any type of potential husband and her life would have been different.  Isn't her life under her own control?  Doesn't she define how it turns out?  At the start of the story she appeared totally under control.
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« Reply #6 on: March 31, 2016, 12:00:30 PM »

This story, hmmm.

I spent the whole time screaming at the husband for his genre-blindness. Of course her head is going to come off when the ribbon is removed. How can he not know this, especially in a world where it seems that all the urban legends are true.

Like the husband, I had a fascination with the ribbons. Do all women and girls have them? Do only women and girls have them? Are those who have them born with them? My impression is that they're relatively rare, in the twenty or so years that the narrator is describing, she only mentions two other women with ribbons, and frankly, the woman with the ribbon on her finger seemed insignificant enough to not warrant mention if half the population possess ribbons My impression of the birth scene was that the narrator was relieved that her son didn't have a ribbon in the same way a person with a congenital defect might be relieved that they didn't pass it on to their child.

The thing that really struck me, though, was at the end. The narrator muses that her husband is a good man. My gut reaction was "No, he's not. He's a rapist, at the very least. He CAN'T be a good man." but then, I remembered, humans are complicated. There's an uncomfortableness in realizing that everybody has their light and dark, and that villains who attack the princess only because she's beautiful, or want to destroy the world simply because they can live only in fairy tales and comic books. Given that this story takes place in a world where all the stories are true, it's an especially hard punch in the gut.
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« Reply #7 on: March 31, 2016, 08:20:41 PM »

This story, hmmm.

I spent the whole time screaming at the husband for his genre-blindness. Of course her head is going to come off when the ribbon is removed. How can he not know this, especially in a world where it seems that all the urban legends are true.


That is funny - I didn't see it that way while listening to the story, but yes, that is a valid point! Of course, I also felt like that was a thematic strength here.

Part of my willingness to take the narrator at face value came from thinking that in her world, like in ours, there is a blurring between what is "true" and what is just story. None of the stories she tells are "urban legends" at all, from her perspective. And we don't really have anyone else's perspective to compare, so we only have her word for it - and a lot of implications - that any of these stories really happened, even in her world. Framing them as stories the way she does, these could just be her way of dealing with these life events.


The thing that really struck me, though, was at the end. The narrator muses that her husband is a good man. My gut reaction was "No, he's not. He's a rapist, at the very least. He CAN'T be a good man." but then, I remembered, humans are complicated. There's an uncomfortableness in realizing that everybody has their light and dark, and that villains who attack the princess only because she's beautiful, or want to destroy the world simply because they can live only in fairy tales and comic books. Given that this story takes place in a world where all the stories are true, it's an especially hard punch in the gut.

Again, I wouldn't necessarily go with the interpretation that the stories are true in this world - and that brilliant section where the narrator walks her son through the progression from "toothless" nursery rhymes back through to the "real" versions (red in tooth and claw) really mimics the way we sell our own children on these kinds of stories. We tell them stories (cautionary tales, morality plays, and even urban legends) because life IS complicated, and we want them to learn the lessons ...hopefully without the painful firsthand experiences that go with them. The stories we tell in our world are the "cans full of pennies" - we dumb them down so the pattern of the story gets familiar, and then we re-introduce just enough horror to (hopefully) teach them not to wander the woods alone at night.

Teaching consent this way is tricky. In my childhood, I wasn't taught about the importance of consent - I was taught to observe prescribed boundaries. The fiction there is that our appetites will be curbed if we stay within the boundaries; but we all learn, eventually, that those appetites are only enflamed by the blind adherence to external rules. If we're lucky, we see the danger in that before we get caught in the pattern of, "Oh, breaking THAT taboo felt awesome... how far does THIS road go?" and ignore someone else's boundaries as if it is just another artificial taboo.

That's why so many people don't get what consent is, or why it's so important. (Like empathy... but now I'm getting into the theme from the Escape Pod story this week!)

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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2016, 02:58:03 PM »

I liked the stories that are told within the story.  I didn't understand how the main character went from being in control to having none. 

But, it was captivating in its use of language.
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2016, 09:03:41 PM »

Part of me loved the slow, almost languorous pace at which this story was read. The narrator did a truly fantastic job with it.

The other part of me, the part that listens to these stories during my commute, had a hard time keeping up with the plot after hearing part of it last night, part this morning, and part this evening on three separate drives. I had forgotten the ribbon, etc.

But as soon as I saw the ribbon mentioned and that it was around her throat and that she didn't want anyone touching it, I knew it was holding her head on. "Surely not!" I admonished myself. "That's too obvious."

And then at the end...it was holding her head on. Leaving so very many unanswered questions. Or perhaps they were unanswered because I simply forgot hearing the answers? I even went back to the beginning after hearing the end, thinking I'd missed something obvious.

Either I didn't and it's just not in there, or I did, and I'm obtuse enough not to see it. Smiley

I enjoyed the story, but I agree with whomever said earlier that it went on for a lot longer than it needed to, IMHO.
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« Reply #10 on: April 02, 2016, 09:23:41 AM »

I don't see the story as being about consent at all.  Certainly not about consent to sexual activity.

The narrator owns her own sexuality from the very beginning.  She tells us very clearly that she made her own desires known (although she says she's not supposed to).   She doesn't just consent to sexual encounters with her boyfriend/fiance/husband, she seeks them out, sets boundaries, and is takes responsibility for her own satisfaction.  She seems to use the language of passivity because she doesn't believe women should take active part in sex, so she hides behind the fiction that only her husband has desire, while at the same time making it very clear that her own desire is strong and healthy.

Not that the world of the story is at all egalitarian.  Men make the money and hold positions of authority.  Her husband and the doctor make extremely uncomfortable jokes about her sexuality while she is recovering from childbirth.  The narrator has a very strong sense that she will be a wife and mother, she never considers another life path. That, along with the single statement that she 'drives herself' pretty much narrows the setting of this story down to the mid twentieth century - 1950s or early 1960s most likely.  The fact that it seems so specific a time is rather jarring, given the 'lady with the green ribbon' story.

At the beginning of the story, when her father is scolding her about the potaTOES, she says that, were she a grown up, sh would have told him that what she saw was real.  Of course when she IS  a grown up, she does no such thing, and that leads to her downfall.    It's also interesting how her father finds a way to control her perceived misbehavior which is less traumatic than how she later disciplines her son.  That's the first clue that this story has more to it than a complaint against the patriarchy.

Her husband is confused by the ribbon at the beginning (which becomes as the story progresses as all women seem to have them).  She tells her husband not to touch the ribbon, because it is hers, at the same time she tells him how they are to have sex.  He respects that boundary for years.  Occasionally he pushes it, during sex and sex play.  It's no wonder he comes to sexualize it.  She never corrects him. 

Her flirtation with the model is interesting.  It leads to her husband's second transgression against her (the conversation with the doctor being the first), and he has no way of realizing that he's wronged her.  He knows that she is aroused by something, and (quite reasonably) he asks her to share.  Then he uses the image during their own sex, and she is bothered, but she never tells him.  Remember that, earlier in their relationship, she managed to let him know what aroused her while staying within what she saw as the bounds of propriety. 

At the end of the story, as she objects to him messing with her ribbon again, he asks her what is beneath it.  When I first heard this part I thought it was absolutely horrible of her to give him permission to take it off rather than simply telling him. He asked her for answers, she gave him control.  Upon reflection, it's not completely clear that she knew exactly what was underneath, but even so she could certainly have let him know that she was afraid, not playing coy.  It's possible that he would have pushed the point anyway, but still...

The men in the story all seem a little simple.  Not stupid, but lacking depth.  I think that's more a product of the narrator's point of view than the author's.

I see this as a story about the importance of communication, not consent.
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« Reply #11 on: April 03, 2016, 09:33:38 PM »

This was one squirrely & weird tale. I felt as though I was listening to an unreliable narrator. The narrator's dispassionate tone was chilling. I was creeped out. Nice.
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« Reply #12 on: April 04, 2016, 05:46:20 AM »

I wish there had been a male in the story who wasn't unthinkingly horrible.
Kind of the son, but he was whisked away the moment he became a man.
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« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2016, 09:07:52 AM »

Very excited to see this story picked up in audio for Podcastle!  (I was a previous publisher of the story in the Long List Anthology but didn't raise enough funds in the Kickstarter to add all the stories to the audiobook version).


I see this as a story about the importance of communication, not consent.

The two are not unrelated.  I agree that much of it is about communication, but also to a large extent about consent. 

She opened herself to him in a variety of ways, sexually at least (if not generally emotionally, although I think she had feelings for him she also kept many of her emotions locked up from him).  But she drew the line at that one thing--he could do whatever else he wanted to do and she never complained, but that one thing she drew a clear line about.  And he picked at that boundary.  And picked at that boundary.  And he pressured her about it, tried to cross that boundary while she was sleeping or otherwise distracted, kept picking at it for years and years and years and years, even though she drew a crystal clear boundary across this one thing that she wanted to keep for herself.  And in the end she finally gave in, but at that point was it really consent, if she only gave in because she was constantly wearied by his picking and picking and picking and picking?  It was more of a surrender out of weariness than an agreement, IMO.  Maybe the difference isn't always easy to discern, but here since she had made it very very clear time and time again that this was a line she didn't care to cross and he kept poking at it, that this was surrender rather than agreement.  And that's all taken out of the context of the rest of his treatment toward her, which was more real-life and horrifying in most ways (I don't know anyone who actually has a ribbon holding their head on that draws the line there, but the "husband stitch" is a real thing and a horrible one).

This was the first time I'd heard of "the husband stitch".  Seriously, WTF is wrong with people.


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« Reply #14 on: April 05, 2016, 06:09:16 PM »

I found this extremely uncomfortable to listen too. It brought back a lot of bad feelings from other times in my life and just issues in general.

I find it interesting that sex seems to be getting conflated with a sort of Universal Consent. Enjoying sex, even submissive sex, has nothing to do with bodily autonomy. If I enjoy dominant sex with a male, even in the context of marriage, I wouldn't assume that have me the right to do a prostate exam on him. So, there's that skeeviness.

Then there's the medical skeeviness. I gotta say, as a physician who puts people in a state where they can no longer consent, there is NOTHING more grotesque and offensive than that trust being violated. I know it was in the past, and even that consent itself is a relatively modern concept when it comes to human medicine. That in no way makes it ok.

There is no doubt in my mind that the "ribbon touching" was a violent act. Pressure in the form of threats or just persistence in the face of a clear "no" is a violation. What she did at the end, in my experience, was not a consensual act but just a suicide of the soul.

The interposition of the urban myths -where so many have women in peril because of their morality (or lack thereof)- was very chilling.

It was an interesting piece. All in all, I really wish I hadn't heard it though. Been there, done that and all.
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« Reply #15 on: April 05, 2016, 06:44:09 PM »

  Occasionally he pushes it, during sex and sex play.  It's no wonder he comes to sexualize it.  She never corrects him.


But she does correct him. Every time he pushes the boundary, she tells him to stop. The first time, she has to literally beg him to stop. And he doesn't listen to her. He just keeps on going, keeps on doing the thing she's asked him to stop. Subsequently, her asking him to just leave the ribbon alone always results in either him ignoring her or him sulking and complaining. I'm not sure what else she could have done to correct him.

(Also, I know I'm going to regret saying this because I don't want to start a whole debate about feminism, but I'm also going to regret not saying it: I'm pretty disturbed by your implication that it's somehow more ok for the husband to push this clear established boundary, just because he only pushes it during sex. Sex is the time we should least expect to have clear boundaries pushed; it's an extremely vulnerable situation and also, if everyone's doing it right, should be a positive, pleasurable experience. Pushing boundaries like this during sex exploits this vulnerability, and makes the whole experience of sex traumatic rather than positive.)

More generally: I loved this story. Unlike others here, I enjoyed the story all the more because I knew that the ribbon, in the end, would be keeping her head on. It just upped all of the creepiness of the husband's behavior for me, and I appreciate that the author was able to take what I've always experienced as an extremely silly "scary" story told by kids around campfires, and making it genuinely terrifying, all the more so because its realistically terrifying-- I don't think I've met a single woman who doesn't have some story of this type of boundary pushing happening to them. Also, looking back, the campfire version of the story was always told from the husband's perspective, and the scary part was the head falling off. I really appreciated the switch, here, to the wife's perspective.


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« Reply #16 on: April 06, 2016, 03:54:41 AM »

Seriously disturbing, but excellent story.

I'd not come across the ribbon fairy tale before (or at least I didn't remember it at the time of listening — some post-story googling rang some vague bells in my memory). So while I was kinda of guessing at holding-the-head on I wasn't certain, especially after the ankle ribbon on the life model.

From my POV the consent theme seemed pretty darn strong. I really liked that it was disassociated from the sexuality of the MC. The contrast in the tale between the positive ownership the protagonist had of her sexuality with the inability of the husband to not own and control every part of her life.

Making it crystal clear (to my ears anyway) that it's all about power and the denial of autonomy — not the fucking.

Like FireTurtle though — not entirely sure I actually enjoyed it. Cut a little too close to the bone.
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« Reply #17 on: April 06, 2016, 05:05:49 PM »

I was totally unaware of the campfire ghost story. Knowing now about that, this story requires another listen.
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« Reply #18 on: April 07, 2016, 12:20:23 PM »

What a great episode, very powerful. The format was great, narration was great and handled a delicate topic in a telling but classy way.

I think this story is totally about consent & surrender. Since consent is a subjective concept and we are so ingrained to think of consent with sex these days, it was very effective to tell the story from a sexually confident woman's perspective. This already sets up the fact that her boundaries are beyond sex and reminds us that consent is not only about the act of sex itself, but something other entirely (like the husband stitch).

Wish there were more provoking stories like these across escapepod.
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« Reply #19 on: April 07, 2016, 12:24:27 PM »

I'm surprised no one mentions the lady with the Red Ribbon.  It appears she became aroused by this woman, but did not pursue it because she had to be so honest to the husband.  I'm wondering if the ribbons are a means of control and that she could actually be gay, but trapped in a straight marriage that follows the scripts of the story she is in.  It does seem that the ribbon affects the life path of the women involved, that they should follow a specific stereotype true to the "story" they are in.  She also is completely obedient and her excitement may not be actually her natural proclivities, but it was hard to tell.

It does seem that the point is that the ribbon being there is a constant temptation to pull.   I found it interesting that her ribbon was green, not red like in the classic story.  The other lady has the red ribbon around the leg, so it intrigues me.  But I could not make sense of it, why the other girl has the red ribbon, almost like they were not the complete story, just parts of it.  

It was a long one and I got a little bored waiting for the final ending, only to see the ending I expected.  It is sad the husband didn't flinch for once when he finally got the chance.  You wonder if he was only interested in her for the ribbon in the end.  Its also sad that the men are all written as not so great or sensitive to the women's need.  I was surprised that the husband didn't flinch for at least a moment when he got the opportunity to take of the ribbon off.  Wouldn't there be guilt or self-doubt after all the years together.  No, there is only the excitement at finally getting the relief of knowing.  I think this was so drawn out to reproduce the affect on the reader, so that we would have that desire to see the ribbon removed.  Also, to see if we could feel the guilt of knowing she doesn't want to remove it, as it only satisfies the husband and our curiosity.
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« Reply #20 on: April 07, 2016, 10:16:39 PM »

I think this is the first time I've commented on a story. (I often don't listen promptly enough to comment in a timely manner.)

I had very mixed feelings on this story. On the one hand, the prose is masterful, and I admired the conceit of interjecting "performance notes" as part of the story. But on the other hand, given that I'm listening to it on a fantasy podcast, I felt cheated by the extremely weak and tenuous nature of the fantastic content. The cues given by the repeated use of urban legends set us up for assuming some sort of twist having to do with the ribbon, but we aren't necessarily set up for a fantastic one. So the brief twist, when it comes, doesn't feel like a payoff for the hour I spent waiting for it to come. And given that I'm not really into explicit sexual material in stories, I felt like I'd gotten a bait and switch: promised fantasy and given erotica instead. (Yes, I know it had an R rating. And I wouldn't have minded if I'd gotten a solid fantasy along with the sex.)

I agree with other commenters that the intact state of her ribbon is an allegory for issues of consent, bodily autonomy, and independent self-hood. I'd tend to put more emphasis, not so much on "consent" as it's usually understood, but on one's right to have some part of oneself that isn't shared. Some part where you have a right to say, "No, this is mine. Leave it alone." and have that respected. As the episode with her desire for the model shows, she didn't believe she had the right not to share. And, in the end, that unbelief was why she felt she had to capitulate to the literal self-negation of her husband's demand.

But when it comes down to it, there's no subtlety about this allegory, nor is there much subtlety about how the presence of this forbidden item becomes the Bluebeard’s Room of the story. The woman’s husband is drawn again and again to torment her with the threat of forcibly untying the ribbon, simply because it is the one aspect of her life to which he has not been granted access. And whether the forbidden object is Bluebeard's Room or the green ribbon, somehow it's always the woman who gets the short end of the stick.
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« Reply #21 on: April 10, 2016, 09:18:52 AM »

OK, I seem to be in the minority in my interpretation in the story.   Let me ask this then -

How is the essential boundary here, and the way it's communicated, different than the boundary established and transgressed in the classic Bluebeard story.

In both cases the message conveyed is "It's mine, do not touch".   It's a command, not a communication.   


Edited to add:  I admit that I only listened to the story once, but in my memory the first time he asked about taking off the ribbon she said something like "you will some time, but not today".  That has very much influenced my interpretation of the story. 


« Last Edit: April 10, 2016, 09:46:27 AM by EFBQ » Logged
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« Reply #22 on: April 10, 2016, 11:42:48 AM »

How is the essential boundary here, and the way it's communicated, different than the boundary established and transgressed in the classic Bluebeard story.

From my POV in both Bluebeard & Stitch:

  • There is a boundary
  • Crossing that boundary causes the death of the boundary setter.

So yes — I guess — at a very abstract level the "same thing" is happening.

However…

  • In Bluebeard the boundary is external to the owner — the key and the room. In Stitch the narrator strongly identifies the ribbon as part of her ("It’s my ribbon", "My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger.", etc.)
  • In Bluebeard the wife is given one warning. In Stitch the husband is told multiple times, in multiple contexts, including the wife physically fighting him off when he attempts to cross that boundary.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner is in the dominant position, and the boundary breaker is in the weaker position. In Stitch the position is reversed.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner is a serial killer. In Stitch the boundary owner is an innocent.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary breaker is an innocent. In Stitch the boundary breaker is (at the very least) an asshat who repeatedly tries to do things to the narrator that the narrator does not consent to during sex, asks for the "husband stitch", etc.
  • In Bluebeard breaking the boundary saved the innocent, who would otherwise have died. In Stitch it kills the innocent, who would otherwise have lived.
  • The consequences of crossing the boundary are known to Bluebeard. In Stitch it's ambiguous whether the narrator knows the impact of the ribbon's removal.
  • In Bluebeard the boundary owner dies because his past actions and evil intent have been revealed — the unlocking of the door in of itself didn't cause his death. In Stitch the removal of the ribbon is the direct cause of the narrator's death.
  • Bluebeard is a 17th century tale where marriage is more about alliance, money & power than love, which sets different expectations from Stitch's more contemporaneous marriage setting.

Which all add up to quite a different tale from my perspective.

Edited to add:  I admit that I only listened to the story once, but in my memory the first time he asked about taking off the ribbon she said something like "you will some time, but not today".  That has very much influenced my interpretation of the story.

You have misremembered ;-)

First instance:

He reaches out his hand, and I seize it and push it away. You shouldn’t touch it, I say. You can’t touch it.

then later…

There is nothing to tell. It’s my ribbon. May I touch it?
"No."


then later…

I want to touch it, he says.
"No."


then later…

There are two rules: he cannot finish inside of me, and he cannot touch my green ribbon"

then later…

He startles me, then, by running his hand around my throat. I put up my hands to stop him but he uses his strength, grabbing my wrists with one hand as he touches the ribbon with the other. He presses the silky length with his thumb. He touches the bow delicately, as if he is massaging my sex. Please, I say. Please don’t.

then later…

I don’t realize that his hand is sliding down the back of my neck until he is trying to loop his fingers through the ribbon. I gasp and pull away quickly, falling back and frantically checking my bow.

then later…

A wife, he says, should have no secrets from her husband.
I don’t have any secrets, I tell him.
The ribbon.
The ribbon is not a secret, it’s just mine.


then later…

Why do you want to hide it from me?
I am not hiding it. It is not yours.


then later

When I wake up, my husband is kissing the back of my neck, probing the ribbon with his tongue. My body rebels wildly, still throbbing with the memories of pleasure but bucking hard against betrayal. I say his name, and he does not respond. I say it again, and he holds me against him and continues. I wedge my elbows in his side, and when he loosens from me in surprise, I sit up and face him.

… and then, after all the above, the wife bows to the husbands demands. To my ears the consent issue is pretty darn clear. YMMV.
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ThatOldCreep
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« Reply #23 on: April 10, 2016, 03:36:14 PM »

Gas lighting, manipulation, entitlement, ownership, and boundaries being crossed.  From the beginning, female characters were persuaded to accept someone else's interpretation of reality instead of trusting their own senses and memories.  This happens in relationships all the damn time.  I enjoyed how the writer wove in classic scary stories and urban legends, but told them with a twist that emphasized how the female characters were manipulated, ignored, or harmed themselves to avoid angering an abuser. 

AND NOW SEX STUFF...

So many things in this story resonated with me and reminded me too much of previous relationships with people who wanted me to do things that didn't feel good or when i wasn't in the mood to, obsessed over parts of my body that i didn't even like or want, and insisted that i send them pictures of certain body parts when i never truly felt comfortable doing so. 

My feelings about sex are probably different from most peoples' because i am trans and spent years struggling to maintain desire for the people i was with, wondering why most acts didn't feel good, trying to make them feel good, and being told i had some mental "hang up" about sex.  This was before i fully came to understand my identity.  Doctors still don't know why i barely feel any sensation in other than pain or discomfort in a certain area. 

Since we generally view stories through the filter of our own experiences, i wondered if the protagonist was trying to convince herself she was feeling something that she didn't, at least not all the time.  It is difficult for me to understand the long-term desire she claims to feel for her husband, especially when i picked up on his possessiveness and entitlement straight away. 

I interpreted the ribbons in a few ways.  If we are relating this story to the real world, they could represent something private, a burden, or the one thing or idea that keeps a person able to hold themselves together...literally in this story.  Since only the female characters had them, i see them also as a symbol of subjugation that females often experience. 

I related the ribbon around the protagonist's neck to the secret i told one of the people who was getting really fed up with my inability to enjoy sex.  It was my secret sexual fetish, which might relate to my transness...i have a few hypotheses as to why i have had it all of my life.  The person did not condemn me for it, but there was this time when they asked if i had engaged in it recently, and i reluctantly told them that i had.  They were angry and asked why i didn't call them if i wanted something like that, completely not understanding that when i was ~horny~ for the fetish activity, i was not horny for a person.  Sex with a person would not do the same thing for me as engaging in the fetish, and it is not something i do with another person.  They didn't understand its function in my life.  That was my ribbon, and I took it off to mollify them.  This also ties back to the protagonist's reluctantly professed attraction to the woman in her art class, which her husband...sort of exploits for his own pleasure. 

The ending reminds me of my ex coming to my apartment to pick up something they left there and raping me two days after i broke up with them.  They insisted that i had given them a disease, which i didn't have by the way, and that having sex now would give them the semblance of a choice as to whether or not they were exposed to it.  I repeatedly told them i didn't want to, but they kept bullying.  I am not seeking pity for this, only explaining how i can relate my experiences to this story.  I was afraid of what would happen if i refused.  This was one of the people who insisted on sex during times i was in pain and accused me of having a shitty attitude about it. 

The last line, while anti-climactic, speaks so loudly to me.  "I feel as lonely as i have ever been."  I remember feeling lonely in relationships, lonely during sex, lonely for someone who really understood and would respect me.  She set a boundary, but he just had to keep pushing and pushing, to have all that is her, possibly to her own destruction. 
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #24 on: April 12, 2016, 09:37:04 PM »


The last line, while anti-climactic, speaks so loudly to me.  "I feel as lonely as i have ever been."  I remember feeling lonely in relationships, lonely during sex, lonely for someone who really understood and would respect me.  She set a boundary, but he just had to keep pushing and pushing, to have all that is her, possibly to her own destruction. 


I'm glad you made it through to the other side - assuming that you have.

At least, I'm confident that I can say, "I'm glad no one has made your head fall off," and be reasonably sure that is the case. At least literally.

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« Reply #25 on: April 16, 2016, 10:12:07 PM »

A blandly stated "Rated R" didn't come close to covering it for me. This was one of the most deeply uncomfortable stories I've listened to in quite a while. It was masterfully crafted and of course beautifully read, but I come here for the fantasy which was minimal to the extreme. I didn't doubt for a second that the ribbon was holding her head on, but really, 99% of this story was a disturbing tale of the boundary line between consent and abuse, and altogether too real. I'm feeling a bit queasy just thinking about it again.
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bounceswoosh
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« Reply #26 on: April 19, 2016, 12:40:05 PM »

@ThatOldCreep - I am so very sorry for the physical and emotional pain you've been put through. I can see how this story would resonate strongly for you. Even if you had had that disease, it still wouldn't be an excuse for rape. But you know that.


The two are not unrelated.  I agree that much of it is about communication, but also to a large extent about consent. 

She opened herself to him in a variety of ways, sexually at least (if not generally emotionally, although I think she had feelings for him she also kept many of her emotions locked up from him).  But she drew the line at that one thing--he could do whatever else he wanted to do and she never complained, but that one thing she drew a clear line about.  And he picked at that boundary.  And picked at that boundary.  And he pressured her about it, tried to cross that boundary while she was sleeping or otherwise distracted, kept picking at it for years and years and years and years, even though she drew a crystal clear boundary across this one thing that she wanted to keep for herself.  And in the end she finally gave in, but at that point was it really consent, if she only gave in because she was constantly wearied by his picking and picking and picking and picking?  It was more of a surrender out of weariness than an agreement, IMO.  Maybe the difference isn't always easy to discern, but here since she had made it very very clear time and time again that this was a line she didn't care to cross and he kept poking at it, that this was surrender rather than agreement.  And that's all taken out of the context of the rest of his treatment toward her, which was more real-life and horrifying in most ways (I don't know anyone who actually has a ribbon holding their head on that draws the line there, but the "husband stitch" is a real thing and a horrible one).

This was the first time I'd heard of "the husband stitch".  Seriously, WTF is wrong with people.




Thank you, this is exactly how I saw the story, except I totally did see it as an issue of consent, not communication. And I remember a relationship where my partner was always pushing, pushing, pushing for more, and yes, sometimes I gave in out of weariness. And yes, I thought generally he was a good guy. And I'm not even looking up the husband stitch; I didn't even think about the name of the story as I was listening, and without looking it up, I have a pretty good guess what it's about. I wrote a paper on female genital mutilation in high school. *shudder* Horrific word: infibulation

This story also resonates with some podcasts I've been listening to recently about a new book about young women and sex. Apparently young women typically prioritize their partners' needs over their own, ie, "If he has an orgasm, then it was good."

Sorry, scattered thoughts because I'm at home with a massive cold that makes it hard for me to think.
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #27 on: April 20, 2016, 08:24:39 PM »



Sorry, scattered thoughts because I'm at home with a massive cold that makes it hard for me to think.

Ugh - I had one of those; I refer to it as "2008"...
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« Reply #28 on: May 02, 2016, 09:42:39 AM »

Wow - a lot of discussion from many angles.  I myself am of a mixed opinion, but only want to share one thought:

"My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger."

Ever hold a child?  They don't just touch, they grab & yank, pull things toward their mouths as part of their learning exploration.  That woman wouldn't have lived past her son's second birthday.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #29 on: May 03, 2016, 09:21:31 AM »

Wow - a lot of discussion from many angles.  I myself am of a mixed opinion, but only want to share one thought:

"My son touches my ribbon, but never in a way that makes me afraid. He thinks of it as a part of me, and he treats it no differently than he would an ear or finger."

Ever hold a child?  They don't just touch, they grab & yank, pull things toward their mouths as part of their learning exploration.  That woman wouldn't have lived past her son's second birthday.

You are right. 

But, I took it as part of the metaphor.  The intent matters.  An infant doesn't have the same intent as an adult, even when they hurt someone they do not intend it in the same way an adult would intend even with the same action.  I got the impression that her ribbon was secure from the hands of any very young child because they lack the intent that her husband had.  Does that make sense?  I figured it as part of the magic of the ribbon--the ribbon in itself isn't plausible to hold a head on, so it has to be magical/metaphorical, and so I think it's internally consistent for it to have other magical/metaphorical properties like this.

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Obleo21
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« Reply #30 on: January 19, 2017, 09:14:35 PM »

I am way behind in catching up with stories from the beginning of last year (I skipped ahead to current ones and make up previous when I can). I have to say I'm surprised that no one seemed to notice that the main story, and all the stories within the story, come from "Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark". I loved those books when I was a kid.  I really liked how the author spun them up for an adult audience.
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shanehalbach
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« Reply #31 on: April 18, 2017, 04:18:03 PM »

Holy hell this story. Wow. I don't even know what to say about it, other than I can't stop thinking about it.

As a dedicated Pseudopod listener, I enjoy a story that makes me squirm, but I understand that not everybody does. I actually forgot this was a PodCastle episode and thought I was listening to Pseudopod. So I certainly don't fault anybody for not enjoying this, especially if they were blindsided a bit by it. We all want different things out of our fiction.

I have been a bit of an urban legend scholar in a past life, so of course I recognized all of the stories-within-the-story. Of course I knew that head was coming off. But the slow build worked perfectly with this absolutely unflinching look at consent and sort of gray-area relationships. It's like being the guy in Clockwork Orange with your eyeballs held open...you want desperately to look away but you just can't. You're tied to the tracks and you know the train is going to run you over and you see it coming and you hope someone's going to swoop in and save you, but they don't. They just don't.

Really sorry it took me a year to get to this one (man I am behind).
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