Lit React ~ Analysis & reactions on works of fiction.

01 July 2011

(Short Story) Living with the Harpy by: Tim Pratt

(Reaction) Sharing Personal Space by: Teacher Kitty

View other reactions on works by Tim Pratt.

Tim Pratt's Living with the Harpy presents a crossroad between perfection and a possibly beautiful life. The Harpy who had been living in the protagonist's apartment had been paying her rent by sucking the poison out. The latter enjoyed beauty, good luck, and freedom from pain because of this arrangement; my ugly for your beauty, your melody for my cacophony, as Harpy puts it.

Harpy was a strange roommate. Her feathers clogged the shower drain, and the smell of unsavory meats cooked over chemicals fires drifted from her room. She screamed profanity sometimes, as if afflicted by Tourette's, but with obvious glee. I occasionally found drowned mice in the coffee maker. Even with all these things, the protagonist learned to love the fact of her. They never saw each other face to face except through the pebbled glass door in the bathroom and never really conversed except for small talks about household repairs and grocery list or the Harpy's monologue about her past.

The complications started to arise when the protagonist developed a serious relationship with a girl she met in a dyke bar. She wanted to foster this new relationship but couldn't fully dive in. She couldn't bring Jocelyn to her apartment because she was also protecting Harpy's identity, which made her girlfriend insecure. One night after rough love making, Jocelyn wondered why she couldn't leave marks on her partner even when she scratch really hard then said, I wonder if I've left any mark on you at all.

Jocelyn's statement shows her growing doubt about their relationship. Being able to be in your partner's home is like a sign of fully welcoming you into their lives. Seeing a person in their sanctuary opens locked doors of dreams, quirks, and a picture of what they're really like in private. All of which Jocelyn's partner couldn't provide. This leaves her with a growing feeling of isolation. She once described her partner's eyes as being like the mirror-side of one-way glass, impossible to see into.

Her partner may have some hesitation to invite her over but knew that it was a crucial step. She wanted to remove Jocelyn's thinking that she was keeping secrets or of somehow being used. She had to decide, I had to show willing. I had to let her in. This shows that the protagonist had decided to choose Jocelyn over her life with the Harpy as she was putting her relationship with the latter on the line. She was willing to give away her perfection, safety and security for her relationship with Jocelyn that has no guarantee of happiness.

The Harpy left one kind of poison when she sucks every other out. It was the feeling of isolation the protagonist had, I felt so alone and now that I have her.... She's somehow trying to tell the Harpy that she Jocelyn was the remedy for her isolation, to which the Harpy replied, But you have me. Clearly, having the Harpy around wasn't enough for her. The harpy was constantly in the apartment but she's not someone the protagonist can really connect with. On the other hand, Jocelyn was someone she can really be with. They can talk to each other and experience many things together.

While preparing dinner for Jocelyn on the night Harpy left, the knife slipped and cut her finger. The reality of pain had opened once again, I'd realized I'd forgotten the taste of blood, the taste of pain, and closed my eyes in horror at what I'd done to myself by sending the harpy away. But she had a remedy for it, ...Jocelyn put her arms around my waist and cooed soothingly in my ear and I leaned back against her, and let myself bleed.

A part of her may regret sending the harpy away but allowing herself to bleed and feel the pain shows that she has accepted the new chapter of her life that is vulnerable to imperfections. This shows her courage to welcome back reality and suffering. It was the price she had to pay for hopes of spending a beautiful life with Jocelyn. It may have no guarantee but she took her chance at it rather than being isolated in perfection.


Somehow Harpy reminds me of parents who try to shelter their kids too much. They keep their children indoors so they won't bruise if they fall on the pavement; they wipe every speck of dirt so kids will be squeaky clean, feed them, clean up their mess, and give everything they need even when the child develops self help skills already. Very much like Harpy when she shielded her roommate from harm.

Like the protagonist, children need to experience things for themselves. Let them run and fall. It will help them to learn to get up and know that bruises heal. Let them play even if they may end up fighting so they can be taught to resolve their conflicts. Truly life isn't perfect and so we have to deal with it. Every problem has a solution and people need to learn to find solutions to their problems instead of running away. Sheltering children only breeds dependence. Hiding the fact of pain only prevents people from learning to cope with their problems.

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