Kathy Fish

I have failed the time unit. My father takes down the clock and sets it on the table. He moves the hands. See? I place my pinky against the second hand and wind it counterclockwise.

Maybe this is a story about a clock with no hands.

You are strange, my mother says. Why can’t you be more like your brother? She says, What’s the plan? In the absence of time my mother asks me what my plans are.

Maybe this is a story about absence.

My mother tells the story of when I drowned in a lake. Almost drowned, I say. Drowned, almost drowned, it’s all the same. Your brother saved you that day. I am watching him run down the hill.

Maybe drowning is the story.

I am watching my mother’s hair turn gray. I am watching her bounce a baby on her lap. She is skipping rope with her sister before her sister became ill. Time has disappeared and I am all of grief and I cannot get a toehold.

Maybe grief is the story.

I slip into the lake without ripple or sound. I slip in like an alligator. Alligators enter the water undetected. They use their lungs as floatation devices. My report card says: Student takes no initiative. Student merely floats through the day.

Maybe floating is the story.

Once upon a time, time disappeared. Has disappeared. Disappears. Is disappearing.

Maybe conjugation is the story.

At the grocery store, I’m so hungry I peel a banana and eat it as I wander up and down the aisles. At the check-out, I hand the peel to the clerk, who says, I can’t scan this. She asks me if I have plans for later. I worry she’s coming on to me. But I am an old woman and it is just a question.

Maybe miscommunication is the story.

I can no longer locate events in time. To remember is to look back in time. I try to get a toehold, but there are no markers, no rocks on the climbing wall. Time is a smooth, flat, vertical surface until it tilts and I’m no longer climbing but crawling.

Maybe crawling is the story.

I am watching myself slide into a lake. I am watching myself slip in undetected. Only my brother sees me. I am watching him run down the hill.

Maybe this is a story about subterfuge.

My father removes the clock from the wall. I am watching him turn the hands. He’s telling me to make the clock say 12:05. I am watching him through the murky water.

Maybe time is the story.

There’s blood running down my leg during the Christmas recital. And there’s blood running down my leg into my anklet. And I’m singing O Come, All Ye Faithful. I mean we all are.

Maybe blood is the story.

I’m floating to the ceiling and Sister William is asking me to recite the Five Glorious Mysteries, I say, can’t you see I’m drowning? Can’t you see I am merely floating through the day? I prefer to travel undetected.

Maybe dissociation is the story.

I am watching my mother turn gray. I am watching her close the book. She asks me why I’m still here. She’s telling me the story’s over.

Maybe this is a story about endings.

Kathy Fish’s stories have been widely published in journals, anthologies, and textbooks. Her work has been published in Ploughshares, Guernica, Swamp Pink, Electric Literature, Best American Nonrequired Reading, the Norton Reader, and Norton’s Flash Fiction America (2023). Her honors include the Copper Nickel Editor’s Prize, six appearances in the Best Small Fictions series, and a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. The author of five short fiction collections, Fish teaches a variety of creative writing workshops online. She also publishes a popular monthly craft newsletter, The Art of Flash Fiction.