The Masters Review Blog

Feb 11

New Voices: “Tilting at Windmills” by Debbie Vance

In “Tilting at Windmills,” today’s newest entry to our New Voices catalog, a woman must put her life in Boston on hold to return home to small town Gainesville, Missouri to convince her brother Simon to move. Vance explores in this touching, quiet narrative how difficult it is to ever truly leave home behind.


I tried to remember the girl I’d been when I lived here but couldn’t. The person I was in Boston and the person I had been in Missouri were not on speaking terms. Billie Joe was right; it was easier to pretend they were different people.

I spent opening night of my first real art show staring at the exposed pipe hanging from the ceiling of the hip Boston gallery, wondering if the angular symmetry of these pipes was more visually stunning than the work I had chosen to display. The wine I drank tasted like its plastic cup, but that didn’t stop me from drinking it.

My boyfriend, Paul, owned the gallery. He was a big deal in the art world, famous if you asked the right people, and he believed in me, my art. He said I was a sea of unrealized potential. He was helping me realize this potential, which is why he’d agreed to let me show alongside a younger, more popular artist, Cheyenne, who sculpted horse penises like the völva priestesses of ancient Scandinavia and set them erect on a pedestal beneath a pink spotlight.

Cheyenne wore a ceremonial goat mask to the show and walked around touching people lightly on the shoulder, whispering divinatory secrets into their ears. It was a magic act, and the people loved it. Already Cheyenne had sold five giant members, and I’d sold nothing.

My work was not phallic or divinatory, and no one even noticed the blue iridescence of feathers adorning the mother bird in the corner, her face, my mother’s, the wings sprouting from her cheeks, structurally perfect. They didn’t notice the cellophane river running under their feet, even as they stepped on it, or the small winged bodies floating in its current. They didn’t look twice at the cavernous structure, built out of papier-mâché in the corner, that viewers were invited to enter. Had they gone in, they would’ve seen a girl’s charcoal memories of a lost mother, an estranged brother. They would’ve seen the narrative of life and death, a girl-phoenix reborn from ashes. But no one wanted to crawl on their hands and knees inside a handmade structure. The risk of collapse was too great, maybe, or they didn’t want to dirty their designer jeans.

To read the rest of “Tilting at Windmills” click here.

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