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Flash Focus: Another Look at Kathy Fish’s “Wren”

[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on September 1, 2009. We are presenting it again to celebrate the release of Kathy Fish's flash fiction collection Wild Life, available at Matter Press and Amazon.]

Stories often concern themselves with encounters in which "one fashions one's identity in a (largely negative) encounter with some one other" (Ruprecht 41). In other words, oftentimes characters can define themselves not through attachment to positive role models, but rather through a process of negation; e.g. I'm not crazy like him. Tension emerges not only from the collision itself--think of the boy in Joyce's "An Encounter" and his run-in with the "queer old josser"--but also from the realization of shared traits with this "dark" Other. The truth that the "monsters" of the world shape and mold our identity as much as the seemingly positive, enlightened models indeed might shake the foundations of many a reader. Again, such forces define us by first reminding us what we are not and then later showing us what we are.

Kathy Fish's "Wren"--a featured story in FRiGG --utilizes the encounter between healthy and unhealthy to reveal truths about both such states of existence.

Her name was Renee Chu, but she was always Wren to me. My mother never let me play with her. "That child is as fragile as cracked glass," she'd say. I only really wanted to talk to her and have her talk to me. I wondered if her voice was like a bird's, soft and sweet, or if she could talk at all.

We lived across the street, kitty-cornered from Wren and her parents in one of the big, family-sized homes. There were six of us, including our parents. We were all taller than average, with loping arms and legs and freckles and bushy hair. Our faces were grotesquely ruddy, our eyes bright and flashing. Every early evening, while Mother prepared dinner in big pots and cast-iron fry pans, our father had us outside on the front lawn, throwing a football or playing catch or tag. The back yard was larger and fenced, but our father liked to display us like some of the men of the neighborhood displayed their new cars.

In summer we ate at sundown, around a large table set up on the front porch. Mother would bring out salads and fried catfish and a pitcher of iced tea. We tore into our food under the ceiling fan and listened to the bug zapper fry mosquitoes and flies and moths on the other side of the screens.

We'd see Mr. and Mrs. Chu moving up the street, each holding onto one of Wren's tiny hands, their bodies curved inward on either side of her like parentheses.

One evening our mother joined in the games instead of making supper. Father grabbed her and held her tight around her waist and she struggled to free herself. My brothers and I yanked on Father's arms and legs, screeching and laughing, as the fireflies lifted out of the grass around our ankles.

Mother stopped struggling and Father loosened his grip and we all turned to see Wren and her parents on their nightly walk. Mother gathered us all around her, hushing us. We were panting and sweaty and unable to keep still.

Father picked up the forgotten football and smacked it against his palm. Mr. Chu nodded and Father nodded back. Wren's mother glanced at our mother. Some maternal understanding, like heat lightning, flashed in the space between them. I couldn't see Wren's eyes, but it seemed she was looking at me. I wanted to cross the street and touch her white cheek. I wanted to tell her my name.

Later, Mother told us Wren was going to live in a home for sick children, but I didn't understand this. Wren was not sick, only very small.

That night I dreamed that I had hammered together a home for Wren. She would live there forever, surrounded by a thousand bright blue butterflies. And she would emerge from time to time to smile at me from behind a window of cracked glass.

So, here's your challenge in your own flash. Bump people against each other. See what happens.

"Wren" � Kathy Fish, reprinted with the permission of the author

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