Today’s work is A. C. Wise’s “Seven Cups of Coffee”, published here in the March 2016 issue of Clarkesworld: http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/wise_03_16/
I knew I wanted to write about “Seven Cups of Coffee” from the moment I finished it; I’ve been returning to its exquisite structure in idle moments for several weeks now. The interplay of precise anchor points and looping, loping temporal shifts is a brilliant speculative fiction example of what I gravitate to within interactive fiction; the mechanic wedded seamlessly to the thematic, unable to see seams or scars. But despite my interest in narrative design, and my impression of this story as a well-crafted whole, I found “Seven Cups of Coffee” difficult to speak of precisely.
Looking back, that shouldn’t have surprised me.
Wise’s piece is a time-travel tale; it’s a story of a woman who, rejected by her family for being a lesbian, and driven by economic deprivation, agrees to a mysterious stranger’s offer to travel back in time to act as a “cleaning woman” – in fact, committing murder to order. The innocuous phrase allows our narrator to convince herself that she is simply arranging an accident for her target instead of ending a specific, individual life. Haunted by the murder, the narrator returns to attempt to halt the events she set in motion; instead, she falls in love. Again and again, our protagonist tries to change her lover’s fate. Again and again, she fails.
That’s the chronological version, at least. Far less striking when I tell it that way.