Some stories sneak up on you. “Behind Her, Trailing Like Butterfly Wings” is one of them. There are so many tiny details that only have meaning in retrospect, so many moments in the opening that only come together in the final paragraphs. This is a story that makes you work a bit, piecing things together. That’s not a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of in choosing the right moment to read it.
This story takes place in a dying, almost post-apocalyptic, world. The human population has divided into nomads who walk the road, following the mysterious and mostly unseen Wandering Woman, and those who remain in towns, called oases. Anomalies called mouths (which I won’t spoil for you with an explanation) are opening up at random, and their spreading threat is responsible for the breakdown of what we would consider the normal modes of society. Life is in flux, and it’s unclear if a new status quo will ever be achieved, or if this is the end. But there’s also a normalcy to the world. People adapt, they survive, they create relationships and families and tribes. I found it to be surprisingly hopeful, for all that uncertainty.
I must confess, this story did not work for me on my first reading. Too much of the world and the characters were mysterious until the end, and I felt dissatisfied. However, I enjoyed it much more on my second reading, when I was able to fully appreciate the skillful way the author dolled out information.
This is a great choice if you’re in the mood for something cerebral, and well-worth a re-read!