Natalie Tsui (they/them) is a non-binary artist primarily working in film, video, and performance.
Myla Goldberg grew up in Maryland, escaping the suburbs as soon as possible to attend Oberlin College. After graduating in 1993 with an English degree, she spent a year in Prague writing and teaching English to former Communist ministers before moving to Brooklyn, New York, where she has been living ever since. Her short stories have appeared in the anthology, “Virgin Fiction,” as well as in the literary journals, “Ecclectic Literary Forum” and “American Writing.” Her first novel, “Bee Season,” was published by Doubleday in May and is in its seventh printing. Myla is also a musician. For over a year, she has been performing with Stefany Anne “Shuff” Golberg in The Galerkin Method. Myla is an enthusiastic attendee and occasional contributor to Flux Thursdays. She is currently at work on her next novel, which is set during the 1918 influenza epidemic.
From Bee Season:
A lot of time is spent raising and lowering the mike stand between contestants who have hit puberty and those still waiting to grow. Eliza wishes that those who didn’t know their words would just guess instead of stalling until they’re asked to start spelling by the judges. In the time it takes some spellers to get started, Eliza has spelled their word a few times, fought the temptation to just take off her tights, and repeatedly sung through the theme from Star Wars, which, for some reason, she is unable to get out of her head.
Without realizing it, she has developed a routine. Three turns before her own, she blocks out the sounds of the bee and closes her eyes. Since she was very small, Eliza has thought of the inside of her head as a movie theater, providing herself with an explanation for the origin of bad dreams. Nightmares are rationalized away with the private assurance that she has accidentally stepped into an R-rated movie and needs only return herself to the G-rated theater to remedy the situation. Using the mental movie theater construct, Eliza pictures the inside of her head as a huge blank screen upon which each word will be projected.
It doesn’t occur to her to be self-conscious about closing her eyes at the microphone. How else is she to see her word? Not having observed the others’ faces, she is unaware that most spell with their eyes open after a brief period of face-clenched concentration indigenous to constipation and jazz solos. Eliza opens her eyes only after uttering the last letter, the word inside her head as real as her nose and just as unmistakable. She has no fear of the ding. It’s not meant for her.
By Round 7, the words have gotten serious. Eliza has a moment’s hesitation with CREPUSCULE, but when she closes her eyes a second time, the word is there, waiting. After she spells it correctly, she spots her father in the audience when he is the only one standing during the applause. She considers waving, but decides that it is too uncool. She tries a droll wink, but is unable to manage the eyelid coordination and looks instead like she has gotten something stuck in her eye.
Though they haven’t spoken, Eliza has developed an affection for the speller next to her, an intense and careful girl whose numbered placard lies at an upward tilt because of her boobs. When the girl is eliminated with SANSEVIERIA, Eliza feels a loss. After the girl is gone, Eliza avoids touching her empty chair.
Although Miriam is glad to be sitting here, a parent among parents, she cannot help but feel there is somewhere else she should be. Miriam knows this feeling well. It is rare not to feel the amorphous pull of some nameless, important task requiring her attention. She considers herself at her best when doing three things at once. The book she has brought lessens her sense of urgency, but Saul and Aaron are paying such single-minded attention to the bee that she feels guilty whenever she starts to read.
She is startled by the sight of Eliza onstage. Though certainly cognizant of their biological connection, Miriam has grown to view Eliza as not quite her child. She had always assumed any daughter of hers would excel in school, distinguishing herself early and often from the rabble of her peers. Eliza’s utter failure to do so, along with her apparent disinterest in cerebral pursuits, placed her beyond the ken of Miriam’s experience. Miriam came to consider Eliza a gosling born into a family of ducks, loved and accepted, but always and forever a goose. Miriam has never expressed this thought to Saul, but can tell he senses it and duly disapproves. She begrudges him his disapprobation, feeling he is equally at fault for so obviously favoring Aaron, leaving her the child to whom she has the least to say.
Eliza’s performance onstage shatters Miriam’s private metaphor. It is not that Eliza is spelling the words correctly. It is that when Eliza stands at the mike, concentrating on the word she has been given, she looks exactly like Miriam when she was a girl, so absorbed in a book that not even a burning building could distract her. There is pain in this recognition. Because Miriam knows that such powers of concentration come from years of being alone, of needing to focus so strongly on one thing because there is nothing else. By keeping her distance, Miriam realizes too late that she has made her daughter more like her than she ever intended.