Publisher’s note: In “How to Save a Child from Choking” (in our anthology The Female Complaint), a woman who has decided not to have kids must fend off hostile questions from her in-laws, but she forms an unlikely alliance with a member of that family. Here the author, Maureen O’Leary, discusses her inspiration for the story.
The seed for “How to Save a Child from Choking” is rooted in a moment when I was seventeen years old, standing outside a Greyhound bus station in San Jose. I had missed my bus. The Greyhound people kicked me out of the station as it closed and left me on the sidewalk at night in a pretty desolate part of town.
I was in a hopeless situation, and a dangerous one. All I’d wanted was to visit someone I deeply loved who lived hundreds of miles away. It hurt to be so young, to be so in love, to be in all ways in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My characters Beth and Nadia are wild-hearted, perceptive, deeply intelligent people who find themselves at different moments in their lives among people who would make them feel wrong in their making. I’m interested in the stories of women who still face traditional mores that are impossibly limiting, even in modern society. Even now.
I also wanted to explore the ties that bind along an in-law relationship, even after the marriage that originally formed it has ended. The marriage ends, but not the loving relationship it introduced between an aunt and a niece.
In “Choking,” a young woman finds the perfect support she needs in another woman who has been looking after her in one way or another since she was a baby. With one another, Beth and Nadia have always been just the right person at just the right time. I think there are people like that for all of us. Sometimes that support is in someone who has been present all along.
Maureen O’Leary is a writer and educator from Sacramento, California. Her most recent novel, The Ghost Daughter, has just been published by Coffeetown Press. She is also the author of the novels How to Be Manly and The Arrow; her short stories have appeared in Esopus, Night Train Journal, Revolution John, and other publications.