A Heart of Mold: Alyssa Quinn’s “Mycelium” by Angelica Atkins

Summary:

In Alyssa Quinn’s “Mycelium,” two people, Peter and the main character, are on the couch, reading. They have symptoms of mold infestation, fatigue, nosebleeds, all the gross stuff. But once they conclude that they’ll have to tell the landlord (and probably move out), they decide to live with it. A segment later, Peter notices that the MC’s nose is bleeding. The MC justifies it by saying it’s not so bad, so both stuff their noses and wait it out. Peter spouts some mold trivia, and both he and the MC think about the mold being alive and sympathize with it. The pair go to the nursery, since it’s spring, and try to find a plant. They see spearmint, impossible to kill, but they go home empty handed. The MC mentions they should have talked about their flourishing mold, in some sort of pride. Peter takes it as a joke, but it was not, in fact, a joke. The pair experience further symptoms and begin feeling a connection to the mold. They also begin narrating their lives to it. While showering, the MC finds Peter’s hair, and carries it to him; he is looking into mold extinguishers. They then buy a sledgehammer and first make a hole in the wall, then destroy the walls themselves. This process takes time, but now they have forgotten each other’s names, and marvel at the good feelings. Then they are bedridden. Finally, the mold makes its way into their mouths. The MC likes the taste, while Peter (whose name the MC has forgotten; they have forgotten each other) freaks out, ripping the mold from his body and asking what happened. The MC tells used-to-be Peter that they did love him, feels the mold inside of them, and believes that their “decomposition is going wonderfully.”

Acute & Chronic:

The acute is the MC and Peter’s loss of agency (the MC welcomes this while Peter fights against it), and the chronic is the MC’s loneliness.

On this story:

For my highlights, I first focused on the pair giving up the fight against the mold and sympathizing with the mold, two things which were kind of contrary to our belief of pests in general. I know for me at least, when finding that something is invading your house, the first reaction is wanting that thing out immediately. But in this story, expectations are subverted. Instead, the MC (and Peter, kind of) welcome the mold into their house. Peter, interestingly, is the first to recognize the infestation as mold.

I was reading Lyrical Ballads by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Peter was reading a book called Is Your House Making You Sick? A Beginner’s Guide to Mold.

The MC was first motivated by inconvenience, because living somewhere else for months was a lot of hassle. Plus, by this time, they already had coughing, sneezing, watery eyes, wheezing, headaches, nosebleeds, and fatigue,” symptoms which did not lend themselves to mobility.

However, what starts out as only fatigue quickly stems into the MC connecting with the mold. An interesting note is that the narrator uses the first plural in referring to the pair, though the ventures into the I voice are when connects with the mold.

We thought this over for a while, and then we shrugged and returned to our books.

In this, they both do things the other sees: reading and shrugging. This much is tangible; but, through this perspective, they suggest that they and Peter are of the same mind. The next instance is another action that they share because of the mold:

We grabbed a box of Kleenex and sat there, heads titled upward, soaking the blood.

The MC and Peter stay on the same page in the concrete realm, mirroring each other’s actions and succumbing to the mold. However, the MC later goes into more depth when thinking about the mold, imagining its spiraling and growing and being alive. It is unclear whether Peter shares these thoughts, though the MC imagines that they both:

felt a sudden tenderness for it, as if it were a child or a pet.

In the MC’s mind, they’re on the same page. After this, the narrator doesn’t diverge into singular first person until remarking that “’We should have told him about our mold.’ I said. ‘How it’s thriving.’”

Which Peter takes as a joke, because mold is a pest and you shouldn’t be good at growing that. But the MC is serious. They see the mold as a success, while Peter is still level-headedly thinking of the mold as an infestation. This divergence in opinion is clear, so the I voice remains, driving the MC closer to the mold while farther from Peter.

The longest the MC tells the story individually is the entire Peter-shower segment, a mini climax. They pulls out clumps of his hair from the drain and not only is he physically in the other room, but also he’s explicitly looking for exterminators, still resisting giving up to the mold. However, they convince him to agree again. The harmonious first plural remains until the very end, where Peter finally diverges from this harmony.

He raised a hand webbed bright with green, then stumbled from the bed. Pulled fungal strands from his face, ripped moldy clothes from his body, and stood naked and wheezing. The two of us stared at each other, neither one surprised, ultimately.

In this, the first person signifies the MC’s final disconnect from Peter and connection with the mold. Interestingly, through using the first person (since the mold is not the ‘we’), the MC is accepting being alone from human contact.

What I can use for my own work:

The use of first versus first person plural and singular to show diverging opinions was interesting to me. It showed converging and diverging viewpoints without wrinkling the narrative. I also liked how it subverted the assumed opinion of a thing, from the mold becoming this reassuring presence instead of an infestation that needed to be exterminated.

Exercise:

Take something which is commonly assumed to be either beneficial or harmful and subvert that idea in your story. This subversion should be influential to the plot, if not the driving factor.

Questions:

Did y’all agree with Peter or the MC?

Is the cost of losing oneself worth not being alone?

Do y’all think the main character was projecting, or do you think Peter agreed with them in their joint first plural parts?

Do you think Peter survived after the end?

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