Together We Can Bury It by Kathy Fish
The title of Kathy Fish’s flash fiction collection, Together We Can Bury It, is an invitation to the reader; it asks us to collaborate with her as we read these forty flash stories split among five sections so that we may accomplish something at the end. The collection is divided into five sections, each titled with a line taken from one of the stories within. I enjoyed the foregrounding of these specific lines to provide a thematic connection for the stories in each section. As these titles worked together to guide the reader through the collection, the “it” in Together We Can Bury It is very specifically identified in the last story of the collection, “Blooms,” as something the protagonist Nona has stolen from work that she wants to bury with her partner Bill who is severely depressed and apathetic to her entreaties. The “it” she wants to bury with him represents a gesture of reconnecting with him, and perhaps atoning for causing the rift in their relationship. While symbol laden as the “it” is, what “it” is is a delight I will leave you to discover in your own personal reading experience. What the “it” means for the other stories and the collection as a whole depends upon the character dilemmas and lyrical style that Fish employs.
So much attention is paid to the lyricism in each of the stories that a reader can’t help but find the beauty in each scene and through each character’s perspective no matter how familiar or mundane it may at first seem. There are so many examples of this lyricism at play in the collection but the language in “Rodney and Chelsea” stood out to me the most. In this story, the two titular characters, teen neighbors, are about to engage in their first sexual experience together. It’s a moment of great anticipation and anxiety, yet the narrative sweeps around them meticulously, not only registering their expressions and subtle movements, but their life histories, the space they share living next door to each other, and essential connections they share with family, friends, and neighbors. The entire moment is exquisitely rendered in just four pages, and it’s such a virtuoso accomplishment of prosody that I had to reread it twice more just before I could move on.
Because of the sweeping movement of feeling and language, often times the stories more closely resemble prose poems, with a string of images and sense of melancholy or wonder emanating from the diction and syntax as it works its magic on the reader. A lot of the early pieces are written this way, including “Movement,” “Searching for Samuel Beckett,” “Skinny Lullaby at the Lizard Lounge: Schenectady,” “Watermelon,” and “Authentic Smorgasbord Dinner.” These pieces are wistful, with images suggesting a chance meeting and something not communicated or received in the time the characters are present together.
My favorite story, “Orlando,” takes place almost entirely within an Orlando hotel, with a hotel waitress named Lori befriending a traveling salesman, whom she takes on a tour of the hotel during off hours. Lori has a boyfriend she is living with, but she’s “too wiped out after her shift to want to do much sexually with [him] . . . They’re like roommates now” and so she’s drawn to the salesman at work who shares tissues with her every night when she cries. It’s clear to readers and to Lori what the salesman wants, and why he indulges her on the tour of the hotel, but it’s not at all clear what Lori wants. We see the difficulties and problems in her life, the hard work she goes through for so little in return, but there’s something else that Lori is carrying with her, something she hopes to let go of with the help of the stranger who is kind to her, even if his kindness can be construed as self-serving.
Each story is a quiet one, but with a tempest at its center. Something troubling, unresolved is at work and emerges by the story’s end, but where the characters or story goes from there is part of the breathless anticipation we take with us through the collection. This is part of the magic that Fish wields through her flash fiction, the ability to make readers care deeply about characters and their situations in just a few short lines and pages so that we always want more, no matter how vexing or torrential their stories are. By accepting Fish’s invitation into this collection you will be living briefly, but breathlessly with such memorable and striking characters that you will want to revisit them many times, like favorite moments buried in your memory.