from "Elements of the Night" (a short fiction)
Elements of a Bystander
(a fiction chapbook)
"This poetic, stream of consciousness triptych merges confidently into an impressionist mood despite the aesthetic imperative, in bookstores and on campuses, that classical forms are the acme of possibility. Like most editors and writers, we at Arcadia are enormously interested in empathy, its absence, guilt, and various phenomena sometimes referred to as the Bystander Effect. Reyes humanizes these ideas and concepts with realistic and affecting voices, and has positioned himself to be counted among a new generation of voices worth our time."
Benjamin Reed, Editor
Elements of a Bystander was conceived as a way to understand one thing: how men respond, or don't, to gendered violence. Do we accept that we regularly fail to empathize, even sympathize, with the women around us who experience harassment or assault? Or can we learn to go from bystander to intervener, abettor to helper in the healing process?
In these three fictions, a male-identified narrator encounters a woman who's experienced an assault or an almost-assault. In the first fiction, a child faces his fears of the night and how late his mother has been returning home after work. The more she tries to console him not to worry, the more he questions all those sounds, lights, and distant voices he hears on the street, and the more she reveals through metaphor what it is she had to experience on the way home. In the second fiction, an adolescent has to encounter the worst sounds outside his apartment window: the echoes of an actual assault. In his anxiety to help, he picks up the phone to call the police but always overwhelmed by the fear of what's happening outside and that no matter how quickly he acts, it's always too late. And in the third fiction, a young adult wants to be present for his older sister just out of a relationship that has traumatized her. In those early weeks of stopping by her apartment, taking walks with her, and just watching television together, her story emerges, even though the comfort of a warm body beside her may never return.
Elements of a Bystander examines what it means to be present for the female-identifying women in our lives who've lived through assault, whether or not we're ever asked to help carry the weight of their memory.