MY FRIENDS LIVE ON MY BED | Ashley Hutson.
Jersey Devil Press.
⇒This is a really gorgeous piece. “My Friends Live on My Bed” by Ashley Hutson is simple, very clean and to-the-point, but it packs a real emotional punch. It’s also quite funny, which is especially effective. The story is a tragedy, but a very understated one (as is typical/necessary in flash fiction); the humor of the story makes it both entertaining and makes the sadness underlying the story more palpable.
Here’s how the piece begins:
Since I’ve gotten sick, Pete has started talking to me via stuffed animal.
Okay, so we have the funny/weird premise of talking stuffed animals paired with the sadness of the narrator’s illness. We have our protagonist/narrator, her (presumed) significant other Pete, and the various stuffed animals that have gained an unusually prominent place in these adults’ lives.
The short piece is more list than narrative. The speaker lists the various stuffed animals in her and Pete’s lives, discussing the unique personality and mannerisms and interactions of each. There’s a horse. There’s a dog. There’s a bear. Each has its own unique identity and backstory. They stay in the narrator’s bed and talk to her and attempt to cheer her up.
So it’s a really simple piece that manages to be both playful and devastating. I really admire what this author has accomplished with such a simple, quirky premise and a few well-chosen lines of dialogue (both human and stuffed-animal).
Stuffed animals, I suspect, deserve a greater role in literary fiction. Seriously. They are incredibly rich in symbolism (well beyond the staples of innocence and former-innocence), and like domestic animals, they are animated by human thoughts and attitudes and personalities. Just as numerous short-story greats like Amy Hempel bring their human characters to life via interactions/relationships with animals (even if the animals’ personalities are mere projections of the human characters’ identities), stuffed animals present the opportunity to flesh out a characters’ wants and insecurities and foibles via their plush-toy counterparts.
This story isn’t really about anything as fun and innocent as stuffed animals, just as Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” isn’t really about some damn hills. This is a story about life and loss and mortality and connection. The stuffed animals serve to both obscure the darker truths of this piece and at the same time heighten this significance through such misdirection. This story is a really great example of literary sleight of hand, and it’s well worth reading and rereading.