Define bad. Define okay. Define trouble. Define sad. It’s easy to offer dictionary definitions, but when it comes to personal interactions, things are not always so clear cut. As a writer and reader, I’m interested in what motivates people, how behaviors are formed, and just why we do what we do. Marisa Silver’s “Leap” is an intimate character examination that explores how an experience shapes and defines a woman’s life. We’re offered a non-judgmental, introspective view of the oil spill that is human emotion. We see how it shifts and changes, sinks and grows, affecting every aspect of self. Silver treats her characters with care and sympathy in such a way that we understand even the most questionable patterns of thought.
I was introduced to “Leap” when reading for Lookout’s upcoming anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade. Once I finished the story, I understood why it was included not only in this anthology, but in Ecotone’s fifth anniversary edition as well. The characters dwell in an emotional ecotone, where variant and even conflicting states overlap and exist in spite of one another.
The story opens with Sheila as a young girl, selling lemonade at a stand with her sister and two friends. They’re approached by a man holding a wrinkled bag. We immediately understand that his intentions are anything but genuine. While Sheila feels in her body that something is wrong, the event leaves her with a heightened sense of self-awareness. “Suddenly, she felt beautiful and much older than she had ten minutes earlier. She was certain of it … She would never tell her parents that for the first time she had been taken seriously.” From an early age, Sheila’s idea of desire is entangled with risk.
She expands on this subconscious notion later. “Girl trouble, on the other hand, was transformative. You could be driven home by a father after a babysitting gig and let him touch your breasts. You could have a fight with your boyfriend and get out of his car on a lonely road and be picked up by a stranger. You could have sex with a boy in his dorm room while his roommates walked in and out.”
We begin to see how that early interaction has woven itself into Sheila’s behavior. She’s “attracted to wily and insinuating men,” leading her to fall in love with and marry “unsettlingly straightforward” Colin, even though their compatibility is questionable. At thirty-seven, Sheila undergoes bypass surgery after learning of Colin’s infidelity. As she recovers, her dog Patsy leaps off a cliff.
Sheila’s desire for trouble may have led her to an unhappy marriage, but it also makes her persevere in the wake of physical and emotional calamity.
At some point in our lives we’re all hurt, but Silver reminds us that it’s part of necessary transformation—at once terrible and empowering, revealing, and complex. Although Patsy lives, she earns a “gimpy leg” from her brush with death. Sheila may have a broken heart, but she’s also “full of radiant possibility,” creating the opening for a new story.