Chicago is a flash piece narrated from the perspective of a sixteen-year-old whose observations circle around the creepy acknowledgment in the first line: “He kissed his daughter like a lover in the dark hallway at her bedroom door.”
And then the situation: the narrator is visiting her boyfriend’s house. The couple is lying on the couch, covered by an afghan, while the narrator’s boyfriend’s fingers “were inside [her] jeans.” The mother, father, and sister are in the living room next to the couple, and they’re all watching Happy Days, though the irony of that television title is lost on them, or at least the narrator, whose family is falling apart.
But you haven’t forgotten the first line, have you? I haven’t either, and the narrator hasn’t because she returns to this detail again and again. The sheer tragedy of it; of the narrator’s boyfriend’s sister (who is fifteen) instructed to go to bed at 8:15, halfway through Happy Days, and the father kissing her in the hallway. How many fifteen-year-olds are instructed to go to bed at 8:15? Of course that’s the least of the sister’s worries. Our worries.
Still, there are other things happening: discussions about travel, backstory which features a funeral and a fist through a window. And objects (spoons) that represent an important role in this brief, powerful story.
On a personal note, I’ve never read a story that refers to the Amana Colonies, but I’ve been there, and I’ve eaten that family style dining to which the narrator refers, where they bring you massive plates of potatoes and meat, and whatever else northern Europeans chow on. But in my family, there were always too many people at the table, and even the large platters never felt like enough to satisfy our cravings.
Fortunately that’s not the case with Fish’s story. There’s plenty here, and she does us the courtesy of trusting us with just the right information. We’re in the hands of a master storyteller, and she doles out just enough detail. Not too much. Just enough.