Short Story Review: Of Warps and Wefts by Innocent Chizaram Ilo

In his other life, my husband is another woman’s wife. This does not perturb me. What sprinkles fear-flakes on my bones is the dark splotches my husband’s spouse leaves on his brown skin. She makes it obvious. Her catawampus nails burrow deep into the suppleness of my husband’s back, her torrid lips besmirch my husband’s nipples, and her tongue drips lava that scalds my husband’s navel. Every evening, when my husband walks into our bedroom, I am forced to deal with this awareness of sharing him with another person.

-Innocent Chizaram Ilo, Strange Horizons, 5 March 2018,

I don’t know if this story is deliberately about polyamory, but it sure feels like it. In a world where people switch genders between day and night, and are married to two different people, Chime/Dime is trying to balance both of their lives. It feels almost like a slice-of-life piece, except the life we’re getting a slice of is one with matchstick children and placentas that grow roots through childrens’ bodies, and gender as performance with very little indication paid to physical body. (It’s implied that their bodies change with their gender roles, but it’s put in vague enough terms to interpret it in many ways!)

This story is very confusing, but it’s confusing in a way that’s emotionally honest and easy to follow – you don’t have to understand why anything is a certain way; just the way it feels to the characters. The debate around ‘is magical realism Latinx-only or for all people of colour’ will probably never be definitively settled, but I’d call this story magical realism – it never explains where its metaphor ends and its reality begins, because that isn’t the point.

Back to the polyamory thing – it’s so, so nice to see a story about jealousy where the answer isn’t “leave the other person and commit your life to your One True Love”. The issue isn’t that Chime/Dime’s husband is wrong for having another lover. It’s just that he isn’t being a very good husband at home in the process. That’s exactly why it all feels so true – I’ve lived this, and this is exactly what most poly arguments feel like.

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