Kathy Fish

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.


“I started writing from the point of view of a small, fragile child but then at some point I found myself describing her neighbors, this grotesquely healthy and fortunate family who lived across the street. I found the true voice for the story in this family’s youngest daughter who was attracted to Wren even as her family, particularly the father, feared her. Both attitudes, the attraction and the fear, are very strange and so, I think, very real.”