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short stories

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Women

‘The Fairer Sex’ Featuring Vanessa Veselka • Maia Jenkins Erica Plouffe Lazure • Bruce Douglas Mari Accardi • Sonia Lambert • Louise Welsh Mystery Issue, March 2013 | 44


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CONTENTS Events

04

Vanessa Veselka

07

JUST BEFORE ELENA

Maia Jenkins

15

Erica Plouffe Lazure

17

Bruce Douglas

20

Mari Accardi

28

LESSONS

THE SILENT P

PACIFICATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS

THE GRASS IS EVEN GREENER...

Sonia Lambert SMASHING

Louise Welsh AUTHOR Q&A

35 38

COVER ARTIST Bruce Douglas Cover photo, shot on Location (Rocinha, Brazil) for Litro Magazine, by Bruce Douglas


132

Litro Magazine

Women

‘The Fairer Sex’

EDITORIAL Dear Reader, On 8 March, thousands of events will be held across the world to help inspire women and celebrate their achievements. International Women’s Day has been held on the same date since 1913, the year that Emily Davison attempted to throw a 'Votes for Women' banner over the King's horse at the Epsom Derby. Since then much has changed, and for many the focus has moved away from the negatives, instead honouring the positive achievements of women around the world—women like Major Priscilla Azevedo, who graces our cover and is interviewed by Bruce Douglas in this issue. A few months ago a seven-year old girl became a surprise viral hit on the Internet with her letter to the executives at Lego. In her letter, Charlotte Benjamin berated the toy manufacturers for promoting outdated gender stereotypes: in her words, “all the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and had no jobs,” while the boys “went on adventures, worked, saved people… even swam with sharks”. Emily Davison never experienced the Internet, and she wouldn’t have known what Lego was—but Charlotte’s complaint would have sounded all too familiar. This Women’s Issue of Litro may be themed ‘The Fairer Sex’, but the women portrayed here do a lot more than “sit at home, go to the beach, and shop.” In Vanessa Veselka’s Just Before Elena the narrator is desperately coming to terms with impending motherhood, an emotional journey that has her finding religion on the back of a taco truck. Maia Jenkins—winner of this year’s GQ Norman Mailer Student Writing Prize - glances back at her own childhood, and the biology classes that defined her early relationships with boys. Then Erica Plouffe Lazure’s The Silent P takes a humorous glance at the battle between the sexes via a chance encounter outside the Men’s Room.


It’s in Bruce Douglas’s Pacification and its Discontents that we see how far modern women have come, as he interviews Major Priscilla Azevedo, the commander of Rio de Janeiro’s first Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP) and the first Brazilian to win an International Women of Courage Award. Denise Muir explores the sexual politics of Barbie dolls in her translation of Mari Accardi’s The Grass is Even Greener… (L'erba del vicino), then Sonia Lambert takes us back to the Suffragette struggles with Smashing, set during the controversial window-smashing campaign of 1912. Finally, we chat to Louise Welsh, author of The Cutting Room and A Lovely Way to Burn, about strong female characters and the dominance of women in the crime genre. Emily Davison might not recognise the housewives and princesses in the Lego catalogues, but I like to think that she’d feel a comradeship with the many of the women depicted between these pages—including Major Priscilla Azevedo herself. After all, they swim with sharks.

Dan Coxon Editor March 2014


EVENTS THIS MONTH ART Beyond El Dorado: Power and Gold in Ancient Colombia British Museum, Great Russell St, London WC1B 3DG Nov - Sun Mar 23 2014, Free A display of some 250 masterworks borrowed from the Gold Museum in Bogota, Colombia, alongside objects drawn from the British Museum's own collection. The exhibition looks at the myth of El Dorado and the 'Lost City of Gold' and presents technically sophisticated.

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones & Martin Parr Science Museum, Gloucester Road, Exhibition Rd, London SW7 2DD November – March 17 2014, Free This exhibition (intriguingly hosted by the Science Museum in its new Media Space on the second floor) shows work by two photographers fascinated by the eccentricities of English social customs. The late Tony Ray-Jones spent the 1950s and ’60s traveling.

Taking Shots: The Photography of William S Burroughs The Photographers’ Gallery, 16-18 Ramillies Street, W1F 7LW Until March 30, 2014, £4 This year marks the Burroughs centenary, and what better way to remember him than to check out his lesser-known photographic work? The fee also buys you entry to the David Lynch and Andy Warhol exhibits (both run until March 30), bagging you three maverick geniuses for the price of one.

Vincent van Gogh: The Sunflowers National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, London WC2N 5DN January 25 – April 27, 2014, Free There are few paintings as iconic as van Gogh’s sunflowers, and this spring you’ll get a rare chance to see two of them displayed together. As the real articles bloom outside, the National Gallery has managed to pair two versions of this iconic image – one early, one late – in the same room. Prepare to play spot the difference.

04 | Litro Magazine


THEATRE 'Brand New Ancients' Battersea Arts Centre, Lavender Hill, SW11 5TN November—April 20 2014, £12 - £15 South London performance poet and rapper Kate Tempest won the prestigious Ted Hughes poetry award for this show, which focuses on the fortunes of two South London families. Tempest's arresting mix of spoken word and live music performance is generally spine tingling so keep an eye out for a performance near you.

Versailles Donmar Warehouse, 41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, WC2H 9LX February 20 – April 5, 2014, £7.50- £35 A new play by Peter Gill, revisiting the First World War on the centenary of the outbreak of hostilities. He draws startling connections between this pivotal moment and the world we live in today, reminding us that the past is not a foreign country.

A Taste of Honey National Theatre (Lyttelton), South Bank, London SE1 9PX Until May 11, 2014, £15-£50 Morrissey has admitted to stealing lyrics from Shelagh Delaney’s 1958 play, so you know what you’re in for: kitchen sink drama, working class heroes, and more than a little grit. This is a littleknown classic, and deserves revisiting. But heaven knows it’s miserable now.

A View From the Bridge Young Vic, 66 The Cut, London SE1 8LZ April 4 – June 7, 2014, £10-£35 Arthur Miller’s classic tragedy, featuring two high-profile leads in Mark Strong (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock Holmes) and Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax, Spooks). This new production brings a dark, disturbing edge to Miller’s tale of mistrust and betrayal.

Women 'The Fairer Sex' Issue, March 2014 | 05


MUSIC SONIC cueB cueB Gallery, The Brockley Mess Café, 325 Brockley Road, SE4 2QZ March 24 – 26, 2014, £6-£20 Curated by composer Luca Nasciuti, this short festival will showcase experimental and electronic music by British and international artists. Expect few tunes, but plenty of sound art, noise, drone, ambient and acousmatic. If you know what those are, this is for you.

London Ear The Warehouse & The Cello Factory, near Waterloo, London March 27 – 30, 2014, £5-£48 Subtitled the “Festival of Contemporary Music”, London Ear presents a series of concerts by established, emerging and undiscovered composers. For those who like their classical music to be a bit less classical, and a bit more cutting edge.

The Cure Royal Albert Hall, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2AP March 28 – 29, 2014, £27.50-£137.50 Ticket prices may be steep, but this is a rare chance to see one of the most influential bands of the last 30 years, playing a threehour set on two consecutive nights. Plus, the show is part of the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts - so you know your money is going to a good cause.

Introducing recreate ‘Discovery’ Koko, 1a Camden High Street, London NW1 7JE April 4, 2014, £15 The current obsession with Daft Punk reaches new heights with this performance, in which 7-piece band Introducing recreate the entire Discovery album live on stage. We have no idea how close they’ll get to the finished article, but finding out will be a true discovery. Litro Live! Celebrates World Book Night with words, music & friends Wednesday 23 April, 7pm - 10pm Dartmouth House, 37 Charles St, London W1J 5ED £6- £10 The evening will be a jammed-packed serving of words, music and conversation. Featuring readings from the hottest new writers mixed with live music and DJ sets. Litro Live! is a chance to gather with friends and fellow book-lovers. Taking place on Wednesday 23 April as part of World Book Night Celebrations at Dartmouth House. We’ll be welcoming Glen Duncan, Emma Jane Unsworth, Charlie Hill and Maia Jenkins, with guest musical performances. The night will also welcome Naomi Foyle, who will be hosting her book club read: Astra

06 | Litro Magazine


JUST BEFORE ELENA An expectant mother seeks comfort in the rituals of Catholicism

by Vanessa Veselka There’s not going to be a baby shower, because there’s no one to plan it. Everyone thinks someone else, someone closer to me, is taking care of it, but they aren’t. And I’m sure as hell not going to ask people to come over and throw party for me. I ran into Jenny Blitz at the Laundromat. “When’s the baby shower?” Even if I were having one, I wouldn’t invite her. My midwife says I should look at my pregnancy as an opportunity to get closer to my women friends. But I figure they’ve had their chance. Ten years of punk shows, basement parties, and having sex with all the same people should have been enough to break the ice. “Don’t you have any female friends?” she asked. “None I’d let near a child.” “People change. Who were you hanging out with five years ago?” “Lisa Mayal.” “Does she still live here?” “I fucking hope not.” Lisa took me in when I first came to town. For three weeks we hung out day and night, locked in a contest to see who could last the longest on nothing but plain rice and red wine. Kind of like how the Musketeers met—only with eating disorders and alcoholism instead of swords. Every time I brought up paying rent, she told me to save my money. As soon as I started having sex with someone, though, I was late on rent. One day I left her espresso pot on the stove and burned the rings. She woke me up screaming, espresso pot in one hand, burnt rubber rings in the other, naked, with her legs covered in menstrual blood. “Get out!” she shrieked, her blue Mohawk an azure fountain, her pink skin red under the black ink of her tattoos. Fine, then. I’m gone. Suddenly, I was new to town all over again. My midwife thinks differences are to be celebrated. “Strong women are sometimes tough,” she says. “There’s often a period of testing.”

Women 'The Fairer Sex' Issue, March 2014 | 07


LESSONS What was learned in biology class

by Maia Jenkins I was never any good at biology. I thought I instinctively understood how the body worked and, come exam time, made up grandly narrated stories about red blood cells combining smoothly in the veins like ingredients in marinara pasta sauce. For the photosynthesis diagrams I drew a vase of big, sagging plants drinking up light from a smiling sun, all carefully sketched in with a bright yellow highlighter. It all made sense to me but, needless to say, I didn’t do very well and, after Christmas, I was moved to the front of the class to stop me from getting distracted. Our classroom was typical of science labs everywhere: grey, draughty, three rows and three columns of inexplicably high stools, a trolley of brightly coloured chemicals. Our teacher, Mrs Bevan, was one of those women who paint makeup around their features rather than on so she always resembled the colouring book of a toddler unable to stay within the lines. For the first time in my life I was with the bad children, the other boys—and they were mostly boys—who were also notorious for getting distracted. And I was a welcome distraction for them. The whole hour and a half they would torment me, steal my notebooks and fill them with obscene doodles, poke me in the ribs with pencils, make crude references to the length of my skirt or the colour of my hair. One boy, Ben, had a particularly nasty habit of flicking my shirt up, exposing my back to the entire classroom behind us. I can’t say why this bothered me so much. It wouldn’t upset me now but at fourteen your skin crawls more easily. Mrs Bevan never saw the act itself, only my reaction. “Maia Jenkins,” she’d hiss. “Eyes to the front and stop squealing.” Ben and the other boys would crouch behind the assembled wall of their open ring binders, collapsing in paroxysms of silent laughter as I pulled my shirt down and tried not to cry. One afternoon, Mrs Bevan took one of the clear liquids from the trolley of lurid chemicals. “I’m going to place a small amount on your finger,” she announced, holding up a pipette. “Then you’re to rub your finger and thumb together. You will notice a powdery feeling. This is because the liquid is mildly corrosive.”

Women 'The Fairer Sex' Issue, March 2014 | 15


THE SILENT P A chance encounter over urinal cake

by Erica Plouffe Lazure He walks past her, bladder full, on his way to the men's room. Take me with you, she says. Where? Into the men's room. I want to see the urinals. She says this like she is a child who has just heard there is a Monkey House at the zoo and wants to tag along. The heel of her shoe is broken. She sits on the hotel lobby floor, twirling the pair by their sling back straps with her pointer finger. Don't you have a room to go to? Just make sure no one else is in there, she says. I want to see the cake. Cake? The urinal cake. I love cake. A urinal cake isn't cake-cake. It’s like, a pink hockey puck. Surrounded by plastic. I don’t care. I want to see cake. Her knees are bent, wide-legged, in spite of her skirt. He asks her name. Tara, she says. P-T-A-R-A. You spell your name with a P? It’s a silent P, she says. Her head sinks between her knees, into her lap, her dark hair a cape around her shoulders. She has answered this question a thousand times. Like in Pterodactyl? Her skirt makes a thin tent across her thighs, making visible a stretch of bright blue panties. Like in Ptarmigan? Yes. Her legs extend so her bare toes touch his shoes. She is not exactly the kind of girl you’d think to take by the hand and spirit away late night into the men’s room, murmur come with me, begging, muffled into her ear asking for her room number, Women 'The Fairer Sex' Issue, March 2014 | 17


PACIFICATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS Litro goes to Rocinha, Brazil with Bruce Douglas, to interview Major Priscilla Azevedo

by Bruce Douglas

Litro Non-Fiction Exclusive

2 September 2007. The thieves came as she was leaving for church. Dressed in civvies on her day off, Priscilla Azevedo, a 29-year old captain in Rio de Janeiro’s military police, sat parked in the driveway of her house in her green Ford Focus. As she waited for her mother and grandmother, she saw two armed men approaching. A gun pointed at her head, she surrendered the vehicle. She was blindfolded and driven away. In the boot of the car, as yet undisturbed, was a bag containing several police diplomas and service commendations. She started to pray, and one of the men ordered her to be silent. They drove her to Morro do Castro, a favela in Niterói, a city to the east of Rio across the Guanabara Bay. The car stopped, and Priscilla was taken out. Five more men appeared. They took turns issuing threats and pressing a pistol against her cheek. Certain she would be killed once they discovered her true identity, she tried to flee. She broke into the home of an elderly couple, but they were frightened by the intruder and chased her out with brooms and shouts, back into the hands of her captors. By this time, the kidnappers had searched the vehicle, which contained five reais, a mobile phone, an old pair of trainers and the bag full of police material. Pleading desperately with the enraged men, Priscilla told them they belonged to the wife of her lover, a married policeman. They threw her in the boot of the car and she waited for them to set it on fire. But the fire never came. Abandoned briefly by the gang, she managed to force the boot open and escape. This time she called for help at the first open door. The boy living there untied her hands, and let her call the police. A day later, Captain Azevedo returned to the favela to assist in an operation that concluded with the arrest of five of her kidnappers. “Of course I was afraid,” she told me when I met her one sunny Friday afternoon in Rocinha, a massive, sprawling favela in Rio’s picturesque Zona Sul. “But fear has its benefits. It stimulates you to survive.”

20 | Litro Magazine


THE GRASS IS EVEN GREENER...

Barbie dolls and crossing the sexual divide.

by Mari Accardi, translated by Denise Muir Mrs Billeci's daughters had invited me round to play at their house. They lived on the floor below me and always ignored me. There were two years between them but they looked like twins and I could never tell them apart. They had long hair slicked back with hairbands, and black eyebrows. The contrast between the platinumblond hair and the black eyebrows was extreme. I was sure their hair was dyed like mine; I had used Cristal Soleil blonding spray and I was all eyebrows too. But when I discovered it was their natural hair colour because their great grandparents were Swedish—platinumblond Swedes—I felt put out. My relatives were all from Palermo: the women were housewives and the men were door-to-door salesmen for household goods. It's been that way for generations and there's not a lot I can do about it. The family photo that has pride of place on the living room unit shows me, my dad, my mum and my grandma, and we all look just like each other as my parents were first cousins. The Billeci sisters' mum and dad, on the other hand, both worked for the council but they'd met at the bus stop for the number 29, which never comes. Their house was full of rugs and bright-coloured Nino Parrucca vases and the walls were decorated with burgundy curlicue wallpaper which looked like the curtain in the Massimo Theatre. I would stroke it the way you do with velvet, running my hands over it until I'd grazed the skin. "Don't get blood on the walls" they'd say. I'd suck my fingers and clench them into my palms behind my back. They had about fifty Barbie dolls scattered across the floor, all naked because the clothes were in the wardrobe. The action figures consisted of two handsome Kens and one hideous Big Jim who, unsurprisingly, always ended up on its own. They wanted my Barbie to pair up with him, even if my Barbie was a Tanya. My dad thought only Vikings from Northern European countries like the Swedes, or Americans who lived in big houses with swimming pools, could afford real Barbie dolls. Stumpy Sicilians with bleached hair could only hope to play with more rustic versions. And so he'd bought me Tanya, who came in a swimsuit with no accessories whatsoever. Barbie's wardrobe featured knickers, shoes, bags, collections by top stylists and work outfits. There was a Barbie secretary but not 28 | Litro Magazine


SMASHING The Suffragettes take a hammer to pre-war London

by Sonia Lambert It had been raining all day, but in the late afternoon it stopped. The wind blew clouds swiftly across the darkening sky. In Regent Street, the windows gleamed brighter, in contrast—the great, high-ceilinged shops were glittering palaces, with wondrous goods, lit by electric lights. I lingered at a window. I was an obstruction—and rather a stout one, by now—to the tide of people, hurrying along the pavement, intent on completing their purchases before the shops closed. I was not there to shop. We wore muffs, that year, to keep our hands warm, and they were a good means of concealment. As if to remind myself, to strengthen my resolve, I felt the wooden handle, and the hard, iron head, cool against the slippery fur. The traffic flowed by without an end—the ‘buses lit like Chinese lanterns, in procession; the taxi cabs that grazed the kerb. If I looked—though I hardly dared—further along the street, I glimpsed, between the bobbing hats, a woman, like myself, scrutinising a display, and another, checking her wrist watch. Just within the open doors, I could sense the warm breath of the shop’s interior, and the shopwalkers smiled their obsequious welcome. A fine rainbow of handkerchiefs was spread to catch the eye, and lure me inside, through precarious towers of jars: bath salts, face creams, perfumes, with embossed, highly decorated labels. Marble and mirrors twinkled like a ballroom. Silk was unrolled in a shining flash, across a counter, and swiftly snipped with gleaming scissors. There was a large black clock, suspended over the shop entrance, but it seemed to me that clock hands had never moved so slowly, and the last two minutes seemed to last for ten. I was afraid of acting too early, and ruining the plan. I stared at the goods behind the glass, only half registering what they were. Bright materials spilled from their rolls in carefully arranged cascades. There were rows of hats, on faceless heads; a display of toys, fit for a princess—dolls’ houses, a rocking horse, and a marvellous array of teddy bears. China and glassware were artfully placed, to suggest a blissful, well-equipped home life. How appropriate, I thought bitterly, that I should be faced with demolishing that particular illusion. Women 'The Fairer Sex' Issue, March 2014 | 35


AUTHOR Q&A The acclaimed crime writer discusses her latest dynamic heroine

with Louise Welsh Litro: A Lovely Way to Burn is set against a backdrop of London in crisis, as an epidemic sweeps through the city and law and order break down. Obviously this setting owes a debt to real life events, but what specifically inspired it? Louise: The ideas for A Lovely Way to Burn have been percolating in me since childhood. I was brought up during the Cold War and at times it seemed like there was a real possibility of nuclear disaster. The feeling was intensified by TV programmes such as Threads which imagined the aftermath of a nuclear war. Britain’s nuclear weapons programme is housed in the Firth of Clyde, not far from where I live, and I have often seen Trident submarines making their way along Loch Long. The juxtaposition of mountain, loch and the potential for mass destruction is a powerful one. I have drawn on contemporary fears of mass pandemic rather than nuclear disaster because it holds more prospects for survivors. Litro: Stevie Flint is an intriguing character, shallow and glossy on the surface but actually as tough as her surname suggests. What attracted you to the character? How much should we read into the fact that she has a man's name? Louise: Stevie is a good looking, sporty young woman who sells all sorts of useless stuff on a television sales channel. She initially comes across as good fun but superficial, but Stevie knows what is important—friendship, loyalty and justice. I like her bravery and the way she uses her talents—all those early morning jogs and Pilates lessons are put to good use during her adventures! Stephanie or Steph just wouldn’t suit Stevie. She has a bit of metal in her soul. Litro: Stevie started out as a journalist, but she ends up working in telemarketing. To what extent do you think that journalism is still a male-dominated industry? Was her character ever intended as a criticism of this? Louise: Stevie’s move from journalism to sales girl on a TV shopping channel is not intended to be a statement on the male domination of journalism. New technology means that traditional 38 | Litro Magazine


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LITRO | 132 Women

‘The Fairer Sex’ The thieves came as she was leaving for church. Dressed in civvies on her day off, Priscilla Azevedo, a 29-year old captain in Rio de Janeiro’s military police, sat parked in the driveway of her house in her green Ford Focus. As she waited for her mother and grandmother, she saw two armed men approaching. A gun pointed at her head, she surrendered the vehicle. She was blindfolded and driven away. From Pacification and its Discontents: an Interview with Major Priscilla Azevedo by Bruce Douglas Cover Art: Major Priscilla Azevedo by Bruce Douglas www.litro.co.uk ISBN 978-0-9554245-5-7

43 | Litro Magazine


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