Strange Horizons, June 13, 2016
“Life in Stone, Glass, and Plastic” by José Pablo Iriarte
Reviewed by Dave Truesdale
Sergio is the janitor/maintenance man of a low-end apartment building. In his senior years, he pays a friendly neighborhood woman to care for his wife during the day when he is at work. His wife has Alzheimers. One day Sergio finds a mural of graffiti on his building’s wall that he must remove. Made of the story title’s stone, glass, plastic and other materials, at first touch he finds himself drawn into the sad slice-of-life scene by unknown means, becomes one of the character’s depicted—that of a small boy watching as his family is evicted from their home. Time passes and Sergio begins to find other such graffiti mosaics in out of the way places around his town, all depicting horrible or depressing scenes, cross-sections of ordinary people’s lives. Upon first touch he is drawn into each of them, experiencing these living dramas of lives past. At one such encounter he finally meets the trio of artists responsible for these magical works of art and makes a request of them, a request he has no money to pay for but for which they ask no payment in return.
Cut to the final scene where Sergio, hand in hand with his once vibrant wife, leads her to the once-bare wall of a building in a lot behind their apartment building. She touches the new mosaic made of bits and pieces of her life—a swath of her bridal veil, a watch, their son’s baby spoon—that Sergio has gathered and given the artists for their creation. At first touch Sergio’s wife’s eyes come alive as she remembers all the things her affliction has taken from her. She will forget again, of course, but the mosaic of her life will always be there for Sergio and her to visit. The final line sums up the story nicely, reminding us how the little things we experience may not seem important at the time, but when we stand back and view them at a distance, gives us the proper perspective on our lives.
Cuban-American author José Pablo Iriarte has succeeded admirably in what he set out to do here, especially given the story’s short length. Well done and recommended.
Dave Truesdale has edited Tangent and now Tangent Online since 1993. It has been nominated for the Hugo Award six times, and the World Fantasy Award once. A former editor of the Bulletin of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he also served as a World Fantasy Award judge in 1998, and for several years wrote an original online column for The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Now retired, he keeps close company with his SF/F library, the coffeepot, and old movie channels on TV. He lives in Kansas City, MO.