Escape Artists

PodCastle => Episode Comments => Topic started by: Ocicat on June 04, 2014, 05:39:16 PM

Title: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: Ocicat on June 04, 2014, 05:39:16 PM
PodCastle 314: The Nameless Saint (

by Willow Fagan (

Read by Jen Rhodes (of the Anomaly Podcast (

Originally published by The Dark Magazine (

They all think that she is a cat lady: harmlessly crazy, smelly, alone. They have no idea that her house is full of cages, that she is a modern-day saint. They have no idea that she has sold her names for them, for the power to help them. Her names: her Christian name, her maiden name, and the name her husband gave her– these were all empty inheritances from people who left far too soon. They were a small price to pay for sainthood, for the chance to help them, the people who do not understand: the women who look away in the supermarket, the children who dare each other to climb over her fence, the men who will not stop manufacturing misery with their fists, their pants unzipped and crumpled on the wrong floors.

She collects their misery, keeps it safe from the world, the world safe from it, locked up in her house. Look, even now, when her bones pop every time she bends her knees, the nameless woman is crouched in the bushes beneath a stranger’s window.

The nameless woman holds up a glass bottle, empty save a slice of lemon anointed with her spit. (The lemon draws the misery in.) The misery in this house is subtle but lingering, like the smell of autumn leaves in the winter, like a fugue played slowly on a piano. Here, there is no man, only a woman with her silences, her long afternoons, her memories.

A waft of blue floats out of the window, like watercolor paint drifting in the air, and coalesces into the bottle. The misery appears midstream, a tiny, thin creature, dwarfed by its own delicate, intricate wings. The misery flaps its wings, struggling against the pull of the lemon. Though its wings are nearly useless, its will is not, and its movement slows. Impatient, she holds up the bottle to shorten the distance. As the misery is sucked into the bottle, and she twists the cap on triumphantly, a voice calls out, “What are you doing?”

Rated R: Contains Misery.

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Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: InfiniteMonkey on June 09, 2014, 09:30:30 PM
Well, I like this more than Mr. Bumblethorn's Coat, probably because it had more narrative cohesion.

Is misery the point of the story, or sainthood? Isn't this story also telling us we really shouldn't hold on to misery (did it really help the Nameless Woman?) Isn't better to face our misery?

And doesn't that sort of denigrate the concept (put forward here) of Saint? Is a saint someone who both selflessly and selfishly take the misery of the world (ok, individuals) onto themselves? Or is that just a crazy old lady making herself important?

(yay! caught up with Podcastle!)
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: mkhobson on June 10, 2014, 03:41:13 AM
The entity (creature? being?) that performs the actions to make her into a 'saint' seems pretty obviously markered as the devil. Which would make her a demon. Which would also make this story about self-delusion, which is also misery. And since it's noble self-delusion (fooling yourself into thinking your ignoble actions are actually making the world a better place) there's also a lovely mist of pathos over the whole affair.

Overall, I found this story thought-provoking, which is what I liked about it. It gave me lots to ponder.

It made me wonder, for example, if people also had "happinesses" that followed them around. And why the old woman didn't trap those, because you can't have misery if you don't have happiness in the first place. Really, she should have been out there rounding up all the emotions.

But that probably would have been beyond the scope of the story. :-)
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: Unblinking on June 10, 2014, 01:03:11 PM
I generally liked this one.  I liked the idea of all the myriad of the different species of misery and the menagerie she's put together.  Like Hobson says, it seemed fairly clear to me that she played the role of the devil in this story.  Although not entirely clear because although the creatures in their cages looked like animals, she also hinted that they could be quite tricksy if they felt the need to be.  They sounded like something more than animals that are just acting like animals because, really, what else can you do when you're locked in a cage. 

I'd be interested to find out what happened to all the miseries after this incident.  Particularly the ones that have been locked away so long that they've grown to grotesque proportions--I imagine getting touched by one of those is like getting hit by a bus.  When one of the miseries made Ruth an offer of what it would do if she freed them, that makes me picture Ruth going out into the world with a horde of miseries, each of which confers her some kind of tactical advantage--I thought the story was going to end with the nameless saint facing off against Ruth the Badass Misery Tamer and was a little disappointed when it didn't.
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: mkhobson on June 10, 2014, 02:43:04 PM
I just gotta say, I *love* the badass misery tamer idea!! :-)
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: girlwithsixarms on June 10, 2014, 03:32:42 PM
I don't know that the woman in this story is necessarily a devil figure (road to hell being paved with good intentions notwithstanding), she is definitely well meaning but ultimately destructive. I saw her as the voice that sometimes belong to people close to us or society at large that says ''Get on with your life, leave your misery behind, it's not doing you any good" without realizing that you can't truly move on without dealing with, addressing it first. The saint thinks she is getting rid of peoples' misery, but the miseries are still there, in a place that can't be reached or even known, causing the people to whom they belong but cannot interact with to instead manifest OCD tendencies (like Ruth's mother) or (I imagine) PTSD symptoms. On the other hand, I don't think misery is necessary for people to have - adversity, yes because otherwise we'd have a Time Machine situation on our hands - but I would hope that as long as humanity has empathy, we could manage to get by without misery.
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: Richard Babley on June 10, 2014, 07:01:20 PM
I have to go down the middle on this one.  In the beginning I couldn't really identify with anyone.  Then it got moving in the middle and I really liked it, but the ending was so ambiguous that I have no clue what to say.  I felt like it just wasn't clear.  I wanted the author to take a risk and tell us why we need misery (it helps us grow...), and she didn't.  Ruth came off as an "I know better than you" type of kid.  I mean just because your mom cleans a couple times doesn't make it true in all cases, and doesn't mean it will remain that way.  The ending just felt so wishy-washy that it felt unclear, and not purposefully so...
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: kibitzer on June 12, 2014, 10:24:29 PM
It wasn't clear to me that the things Lady Nameless captured were, in fact, miseries. To me, Ruth's comments and questions raised the possibility that "miseries" was just the label Lady Nameless came up with to explain what she saw. Ruth cast doubt on her whole life mission and self-imposed raison d'etre but instead of re-evaluating she clung to her fabrications. There's no evidence in the story that people's lives were better for having the "miseries" taken away.
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: Devoted135 on June 13, 2014, 01:02:54 AM
At the beginning of the story I was completely on the old woman's side and believed her at her word. And why not? However, as Ruth probed more and more into her story, I began to doubt everything she said. It's like an intricate unreliable narrator puzzle! :P Ultimately, I think that the old woman was well-meaning but very misguided. By the end, I was definitely rooting for Ruth to make her escape!
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: mkhobson on June 13, 2014, 01:45:52 AM
Graeme, I admit it never occurred to me to doubt that what she was capturing were actually miseries, as represented. But if they were indeed something else, that opens up interesting avenues of interpretation. For example, someone with a different perspective might call them "blessings" (if one takes the position that it's the hardships in our lives that allow us to grow and evolve into better people) in which case "Lady Nameless" was actually assisting the devil (all unbeknownst to her) in stealing away something very precious. I like that line of thought, it's very bendy and strange!
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: kibitzer on June 14, 2014, 06:04:54 AM
Bendy and strange -- I like that :) Thanks.
Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: FireTurtle on June 20, 2014, 05:38:33 PM
Count me amongst the skeptical. At first I was quite certain that our Nameless Saint was capturing miseries but as things progressed and the "identity" of her educator was more thoroughly revealed I felt certain that this was not the case. That, in fact, she may have been capturing pieces of souls or spirits. As a complete aside, the slowly growing captured miseries reminded me of the spirits in "Spirited Away". To my mind, the spirits were only growing because they were exposed to her constant misery (and denial of self) and they would likely have remained small or even dwindled in a more equalized environment.

All in all, any story that provokes this much second-guessing is a winner in my book. Huzzah for the story that makes us think.

Title: Re: PC314: The Nameless Saint
Post by: Fenrix on July 18, 2014, 02:21:41 PM
This could be taken as an analogy for the way some people believe that faith works.

Some people think that faith is like a wish machine. You pray and the problem goes away. Saint Nameless is the wish granter that makes your problems disappear.

People of faith generally pray for the strength to handle the adversity that is sent their way. The discussion of why we suffer is a core concept of religion. C.S. Lewis is far more eloquent than I as to the importance of suffering, particularly from a Christian viewpoint. “Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.”

Maybe Ruth and Saint nameless can see the tempters and guardian angels. Maybe Saint Nameless's tempter is getting top marks. I think Screwtape would be far prouder of this student than he was with Wormwood.

”He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs; to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual temptation, because we design them for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot "tempt" them to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there, He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”