FAN

I shall go by the name "Fan". There are any number of reasons for this.

I conceal and reveal myself with rhythmic regularity. I can be folded up and stored carefully, but when I am opened a fantastical pattern is revealed. This image is hand-painted on my complex but predictable folds. I can at times provide relief from discomfort and heat, but I avail little against balmy humidity. At such times I dangle uselessly, half-closed and forgotten, an accessory of little importance, eager to provide assistance but only cutting off the circulation of those I attach myself to.

At other times I become a bright flaring symbol, anachronistic, flirtatious, and feminine, reminding others of the restrictions and freedoms of Victorianism. A bright banner, I am a communicative device which when properly used is capable of conveying broad ranges of emotion, from fast fluttering excitement to slow languorous sensuality, from erratic irritation to calculated vapid boredom, and from shielding shyness to bold gestural strength. Certain versions of me were used by early 19th-century prostitutes to contain hidden knives, which were released by pressure on a secret panel.

My long history, when encased in glass at a museum, looks like rows and clusters of variegated impaled butterflies. When displayed and labeled by museum curators, some of my magic is lost. Those who view me under these circumstances are not interested in whose fingerprints adorn me or what fire left char marks on my lace, or even what brand of face paint flushes my edges where I was kissed absent-mindedly by thoughtful maidens. Instead they are struck merely by the fact that I am either rare and unique if handcrafted, or modern and repeatable, if factory-made. I am meant to be used, and look wistful when trapped under glass. Passersby with a flair for costume lust after me when I am behind glass, longing to hold me and carry me to dances neatly tucked inside their sequined valises. When I am stolen out from under the glass, I lose some of my rarefied appeal which results from unattainability, but I enjoy myself a great deal more and lose the mothball scent of storage.

I am sometimes stored, safely wrapped in gauze, in attics by those who cannot bear to part with me but have no further use for me. I am passed on or displayed as a magical treasure of a bygone age to toddling chubby girls visiting Grandma or avid collectors with chemical-stained hands who can appreciate my once-necessary function, use me, and continue to pass me on.

Certain newer versions of me are more poorly constructed copies rendered in plastic that strives to achieve the look of gilded ivory or hand-painted rosewood. I have been known to sport feathers, sequins, lace, strategic holes, and tassels. When closed I am rigid and straight, when opened I am fluid and responsive to the least shift in the air.

Most of all, I am a natural extension of women's hands. I have been used in the past to repress, hide, and indicate the privileged fragility of women of the middle and higher social classes, whether in the Renaissance when I took a different form, in modern Japan, or in colonial America. At the same time, I have relieved the pain and restriction caused by their tight corsets and high heels, and filled in for smelling salts, wafting air ripe for breathing towards distorted lungs and into starved alveoli.