Be Still

Kathy Fish


Listen, once I hallucinated a helicopter on my pillow and I told my dad who was watching The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and he told me to go sit on the toilet. No matter what was wrong my dad’s advice was always to sit on the toilet.

When I was a child—for a long time during my childhood—I had spells. For a minute or so, wherever I was, whatever I was doing, I kind of left my body. Like I was no longer in my body. I never told anyone.

I figured if I told my dad about my spells he’d just tell me to sit on the toilet.


Later when I was a wife and a mother we moved back to America from Australia. It had been summer in Australia and then, abruptly, we were thrust into the Northern Hemisphere winter. Then it was March but the gray not-yet-spring part of March and we were living in a condo and my boy was a toddler and I looked out the window while he was at the table eating Cheerios and I had no idea what month it was. I mean I had to consult a calendar.

There was a man coming around, then, whom I’d met at the playground of our subdivision. That first time, he was with a little boy he said was his nephew and he called him “Buddy-O.” Then he started coming around without the nephew. I guess you could say we struck up a friendship.

I remember the Cheerios and the window and the condo and the man and the gray. And the time a bee stung my boy on his thumb. The thumb he loved to suck. And he started to scream and I rolled up a newspaper and pulverized it and the man said he didn’t see me as the bee pulverizing type. Men are almost always wrong and this one was no exception.

I remember dressing my boy up as Max in Where the Wild Things Are for the preschool play and after that, he didn’t want to wear anything else. One time he shouted at the man to BE STILL and after that the man stopped coming around.


There is a thing called time blindness I keep meaning to Google.


He didn’t cross the midline when coloring. He’d switch the crayon to his other hand to color the other side of the page and that led to the assessment and the new school and the therapies and the brain scans and me having to quit my job because no one wanted to babysit him. There’s more but that’s the crux of it.


I do vaguely remember a family trip to Europe. The three of us. My husband remembers our entire itinerary. Every city, castle, museum, and restaurant. The waitress in Italy called our boy angelo. But then they made us leave when the plate of squid made him scream.

I can’t tell you what year it was but it was some time in the 2000s.

When we needed to know when something happened, we would ask our son. He’d say, that was March 16th, 2004 or whatever.

He could tell you what day of the week you were born on. We made him do it when people came over, like a parlor trick. Sometimes the thought of it keeps me awake at night. Like, what assholes.


My older brother remembers everything about our childhood. I do not recognize the childhood of my brother’s memories. He had one childhood and I had another. I mostly remember there was a general lack of enchantment. Like I pretty much knew how each day would go and, importantly, how to keep myself quiet and small.


I fell into a lake at a big family gathering when I was three and nearly drowned.

There were lots of bystanders but it was my thirteen-year-old brother who ran down the hill, jumped in, and pulled me out.

I remember being wrapped in a tablecloth that smelled like creamed corn, and my mother telling everyone party’s over, go home.


And another family gathering—another picnic—when everyone packed up and went back to our place except oops they left me behind. I was five. At some point I realized they’d left but I went on playing with this girl who’d also read Robinson Crusoe.

Her dad asked for my phone number and address. I remember their car. I remember looking at my shoes and after a long time, being dropped off at home. But here’s the thing: I don’t remember a single thing after that and I feel like I should. I don’t remember being hugged or the man being thanked. I can’t see my mother’s face.


Kathy Fish has been published in Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, Best American Nonrequired Reading, and elsewhere. Her work has appeared in three Norton anthologies of flash fiction as well as the most recent edition of the Norton Reader. Honors include a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship and the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize.