Exploring the art of prose


Author: Kathleen McKitty Harris

Author’s Note

This flash piece, like so much of my writing, emanated from a persistent childhood memory: my father’s Christmas gift to my mother in 1978—a caramel-colored suede coat, a seemingly innocuous object that ultimately had greater meaning for both my mother and me.

The piece incorporates two recurring themes in my work—1970s New York City and Catholicism—an era, location, and religion into which I was born and raised. Elements of city life and religious tenets often weave their way into my work—sometimes unknowingly until after I’ve completed several drafts. In flash, one can often conjure time and place with a brief mention of a song lyric, a pop culture icon, or a fashion trend, which I do here by mentioning a stranger’s feathered Farrah curls. I’ve set many of my essays during this period, because it was such an influential, traumatic, and spine-strengthening time in my life.

My Catholic influence also appears throughout the piece. (I strongly identify as an Irish Catholic New Yorker, although I am now more of a hopeful agnostic who dabbles in occasional Buddhist practice.) I begin with an anthemic statement—wanting to believe—and ask that the reader view that not only as reference to my ancestral faith, but to my familial circumstances as well, as I notice the first fraying threads of a marriage which ultimately unravels.

I also allude to “shrouding” twice in the text. The first mention is secular as I connote a pall of sadness, but when I arrive at the close, the second mention has a more religious tone. In the last paragraph, I compare it to The Shroud of Turin, a piece of cloth viewed by some as a holy relic, and by others as mere mythology—a nod to the dichotomy of my home life, as well.

Although I no longer consider myself Catholic, I still keep the coat, still engage in the mea culpa. The roots of Catholicism still run deep within me. It is unsurprising then that I make sense of such confusing times, even now, through the filter of religious metaphor.

Working in a flash style allows me to pare down larger swaths of story, emotion, and structure into more compressed scenes, in turn allowing the reader to enter and exit them quickly, and be gently grazed by the telling of my experience. It’s a preferred format for me, and one that I still seek to master.


KATHLEEN MCKITTY HARRIS is a fifth-generation native New Yorker whose work has appeared in Longreads, Sonora Review, Creative Nonfiction, McSweeney’s, and The Rumpus, among others. Her essay, “A Timeline of Human Female Development,” was recently published in the body-image anthology My Body, My Words. She has been featured as a storyteller on The Moth Podcast, and co-hosts the “What’s Your Story?” live-reading series in Northern New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and two teenaged children.